Huckabee against all, and all against Huckabee

A fascinating dynamic is unfolding in the Republican primary: Huckabee is taking on the establishment. Usually, GOP primaries anoint a front-runner early and coronate him months before the voting start -- making it impossible for challengers who try to take on a more unusual tone from contesting the race and demolishing them if they try (think McCain in 2000).

But for the first time in recent memory, the GOP field is wide open and has no front-runner; in fact, every candidate now in the race has been front-runner or immediate runner-up at some point, and the voters desperately want a viable conservative candidate which they are not finding.

Now Huckabee has long been known as the most socially conservative of the major candidates. But here is something we are not used to seeing: a socially conservative candidate who is directly part of the movement. As a former pastor, Huckabee is not just "talking to" the evangelical crowd and that's making many GOPers -- who always kept the Religious Right at a minimal distance from the center of power -- panic.

And Huckabee is playing on this anti-establishment message, trying to rally the evangelical vote by pitting himself against the arrogant quasi-secular elite of the Northeast. And he uses tones that we very rarely see in a Republican candidate! Read these recent comments -- do they sound like a Republican to you?

The Wall Street to Washington axis--this corridor of power--is absolutely frantically against me. But out there in America, the reason that we're number one in the polls is because I'm the guy who doesn't have some off-shore mailbox and bank account in the Caymans hiding my money. I'm the guy who worked my way up through it. And there are a whole lot of people in America who believe that the president ought to be a servant of the people, and ought not to be elected to the ruling class.

Such a strategy would never work in normal times -- and the GOP establishment would go in full destruction mode. Now, they are in destruction mode again, but there is no front-runner they can help. Giuliani is fading, Thompson is nowhere, and McCain is getting stronger but only has New Hampshire. That leaves Romney, who is electable and conservative (depending on the year), but that would require a concerted decision to rally behind him -- which is hard to do when the field is this fractured.

So could Huckabee carry his anti-establishment message to the nomination? It would be fascinating if John Edwards and Obama (though Obama's message is not anti-establishment, he is taking on the establishment -- which is a big difference) failed to do so in the party that usually is more kind to such candidates, and the GOP went there. Though it would not be surprising: The Democratic field has an establishment figure that the GOP lacks right now.

The TNR's Noam Scheiber very interestingly speculated yesterday that evangelicals might be incensed by the treatment Huckabee is receiving, and might realize that they are to help the GOP but never actually get to power -- resulting in some major backlash. That could indeed be true since Huckabee is very much being demolished for being too religious (whereas if Obama loses it will not be because he was black); but there's an easy way for the Republican nominee to solve that: Choose Huckabee as the VP nominee.

But that could have seemed a plausible scenario a few weeks ago. This stretch of events has revealed how much the GOP establishment despises Huckabee -- and can he still be a viable VP contender after that?



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