The New York Times‘ estimable David Kirkpatrick has a good piece in today’s Week in Review on Huckabee and the putative collapse of the Reagan coalition of social conservatives, economic conservatives, and defense, ah, conservatives. Ed Rollins, the old GOP hand now managing Huck’s campaign, pronounced it dead, claiming that the “key” is a “whole new coalition.” What would that coalition look like? Mostly, Rollins and the other Republican wise heads Kirkpatrick spoke to seem to be looking back to reviving connections to the Reagan Democrats, who before that were Wallace Democrats–socially conservative (to say nothing of racist) white working and lower-middle-class folks who defected from the New Deal coalition for various reasons.
The most important quote is the kicker:
“My fantasy out of this race is that Huckabee will create another Christian Coalition,” said Grover Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, recalling the group that grew out of Pat Robertson’s 1988 campaign and became a political force for much of the next decade. “If you could have the equivalent of the Christian Coalition, it would be a bulwark for the Goldwater-Reagan wing of the party.”
This is exactly the point. “Social conservatives”–i.e. evangelicals–serve to provide the rest of the coalition with voters–that’s the bulwark. The problem with Huckabee is that he is not with the rest of the program. The bigger problem for the GOP is that his folks may not be either.
To the extent that the wise heads are conjuring with this possibility, they couch it in terms of William Jennings Bryan-style populism. Huck may or may not be Bryan redivivus. But as students of American religious history recognize, Bryan’s populism had bona fide religious roots, and Huck’s candidacy shows that these roots can still send up shoots. As William Lindsey shows in the forthcoming issue of Religion in the News, the Missionary Baptist church that Huck was raised in was strongly imbued with the spiritual imperative to help the least among us. A new evangelical movement concerned as much with AIDS and Third-World Debt and universal health care as with abortion and gay marriage may very well be part of a new political coalition, but it’s unlikely to be a Republican one.