Mike Huckabee may very well win the Republican caucus in Iowa on January 3, but he will not be elected president next November. I say this based partly on my own subjective response as a Religious Right voter who appreciates the challenge the ex-governor and evangelical pastor poses to the rest of this campaign’s disappointing field of Republican hopefuls.
Huckabee has a refreshing passion and appears to grasp a certain moral reality: that the country needs more in a leader than just a determination to fight “World War IV” against “Islamofascism.” Unfortunately, the man doesn’t look or sound like he’s ready for presidential prime time.
Huckabee’s speaking and writing lack a sense of groundedness that voters in a general election will require. Maybe he had more solidity before he lost that famous 110 pounds.
Think of it this way: What would a President Huckabee be like in a major September 11-style crisis? I don’t know, and that worries me, as it must many other people. My strong hunch is that in the contest for the Republican nomination, Rudy Giuliani will emerge as the victor. It’s hard to believe that in the end the former mayor of New York, with his vivid and very human personality, will be beaten out by Mitt Romney, who seems computer generated.
But Giuliani will lose to the Democratic nominee. Why? Because the values voters who elected George W. Bush in the last election have not been abducted by space aliens. As you may recall, when voters were asked a week before the 2004 elections what issue mattered most to them, the top choice was “moral values.”
The former New York mayor, with his very imperfect record as a family man, should be able to understand better than anyone else in the Republican field why morals matter in politics, and why those morals need to be grounded in transcendent truths and expressed in practical policies.
While it was Giuliani himself who wrecked his previous marriage, our culture of relativism was surely an aggravating influence on him. He could have been a great witness for traditional conservatism. Maybe he figures, wrongly, that that would make him a hypocrite. On the contrary.
Committed to relativistic positions on the social issues, Giuliani won’t accept the lesson that his own life teaches. This will continue to dismay voters whose enthusiasm is currently being aroused by Huckabee. When Pastor Mike fades, those voters will be left without a strong reason to show up in force to vote in November.
But before Huckabee’s sun sets, I have another prediction. It is that we will hear a lot more not only about the candidate himself but about a topic — evolution — on which he has already been pestered incessantly by the media. Every time another reporter asks again, Huckabee sounds increasingly annoyed.
The questioning will intensify. For Huckabee has said, “Frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact… It should be taught as one of the views that are held by people.” He has also said that his opinion on evolution should have no bearing on what view we take of him as a presidential candidate.
The mainstream media know better. Of course it matters what he thinks of evolution; his opinion on the subject is a stand-in for more sweeping questions about a would-be leader’s worldview, which in turn has huge ramifications for how he would lead.
The issue matters because whether life has meaning depends on whether you think there is a spiritual reality outside our biological existence that bestows meaning. Belief in such a meaning makes no sense coupled with Darwinian theory, the purpose of which is to explain the development of life without reference to any spiritual reality. To imagine that a material creature can bestow authentic meaning on himself is merely a comforting lie some of us tell ourselves.
Lots of good people have avoided contemplating any of this with depth or candor. But preferring not to seriously consider so basic a question is not a desirable characteristic in the leader of the free world.
So far, Huckabee has refused to say exactly what he thinks accounts for the development of complex biological life. Going forward, then, there are two possibilities.
Huckabee may continue to resist defining his views. So the media savants will do it for him. They will peg him as a naive biblical literalist, as they generally do when reporting on anyone who doubts that a purely material mechanism like natural selection alone could do all the evolutionary work that turned non-life into life.
That will hasten Huckabee’s eclipse. A simple-minded scriptural literalism can only be maintained when the believer has not grappled with the relevant science. Scientific naivety is another quality few of us want in a president, or in a political party. If he keeps dodging, Huckabee could give Democrats a crippling weapon against the GOP for years to come.
On the other hand, if he directly confronts the evolution issue, and if he’s well informed about it, Huckabee could spark a healthy national debate. There are still a lot of otherwise smart folks out there who can’t shake the mistaken assumption that there is no middle ground between being a religious fundamentalist and a dogmatic evolutionist.
Even if he never makes it to the White House, Mike Huckabee has a chance to do an educational service to his country.
David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is the author of the forthcoming “How Would God Vote? Why the Bible Commands You to Be a Conservative” (Doubleday).