The Long Knives Come Out For Huckabee

Fresh off his resounding victory at the Values Voter Debate in Florida and his first place (depending on how you count) finish in the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit, it seemed as if Mike Huckabee’s campaign was gaining traction – for a while, at least.

After all, following the Summit, a group of right-wing leaders met to discuss their options going into the 2008 election and many appeared ready to come out in favor of Huckabee:

Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values and member of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, declined to talk about the meeting but said he has personally decided to support Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister. Another well-respected Christian conservative leader, Kelly Shackleford, a Texas lawyer, is also expected to come out on behalf of Mr. Huckabee in the coming days.

Since the summit, Huckabee has hit double digits in the polls for the first time, saw his fundraising skyrocket, and even picked up the endorsement of Joe Carter, who is not only Director of Web Communications for Family Research Council but also an influential blogger in his own right.

His progress appears to have prompted others on the Right, such as the Club for Growth’s Pat Toomey, to take his campaign seriously and mobilize to stop it:

Of course, there is little actual chance of Huckabee winning the presidency — at least not in 2008. Notwithstanding his improved polling in Iowa, Huckabee isn’t really running for president — not with a near empty campaign treasury. Rather, the second iteration of the Man from Hope is trying to parlay his social conservative credentials and aw-shucks congeniality into the vice-presidential nomination next year. Before conservatives jump on that train, however, they should consider the likelihood that the presence of such a big government backer on the ticket would hurt the party’s prospects more than it helps.

The Wall Street Journal’s John Fund has also come out against Huckabee and gotten others to go on the record against him as well:

But I also know he is not the “consistent conservative” he now claims to be.

Nor am I alone. Betsy Hagan, Arkansas director of the conservative Eagle Forum and a key backer of his early runs for office, was once “his No. 1 fan.” She was bitterly disappointed with his record. “He was pro-life and pro-gun, but otherwise a liberal,” she says. “Just like Bill Clinton he will charm you, but don’t be surprised if he takes a completely different turn in office.”

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the national Eagle Forum, is even more blunt. “He destroyed the conservative movement in Arkansas, and left the Republican Party a shambles,” she says. “Yet some of the same evangelicals who sold us on George W. Bush as a ‘compassionate conservative’ are now trying to sell us on Mike Huckabee.”

Rick Scarborough, a pastor who heads Vision America, attended seminary with Mr. Huckabee and is a strong backer. But, he acknowledges, “Mike has always sought the validation of elites.” When conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention after a bitter fight in the 1980s, Mr. Huckabee sided with the ruling moderates. Paul Pressler, a former Texas judge who led the conservative Southern Baptist revolt, told me, “I know of no conservative he appointed while he headed the Arkansas Baptist Convention.”

With Huckabee starting to pick up support from grassroots conservative voters and activists, it looks as if establishment right-wing leaders are out to quash his ascension by claiming that he is not really conservative at all. And that is not only angering Huckabee, who is complaining that he feels like “a soldier who goes to war and his own army won’t give him the supplies he needs to win,” but is likely to further exacerbate the tensions between these leaders and those they claim to represent:

[Filipe] Dacosta said he was angry that the Christian-right leadership, particularly FRC’s Perkins, Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land and American Values’s Gary Bauer, had not only withheld an endorsement of Huckabee but had sent signals before the summit favoring Romney. Dacosta added, “They’re trying to force it down our throats. Makes you wonder, why are they doing it? This guy is a billionaire.” Dobson also has yet to endorse a candidate. Huckabee’s backers are dismayed that so far he’s refused to give their man his blessing.

But the cracks in the Christian right’s armor signal discontent between the privileged and the grassroots. The notion that the “grasstops” would shun one of their own because his rival– a Mormon, no less–has more money is insulting to them. But because they’ve been persuaded that Democrats are anti-Christian and un-American, they’ll be stuck once again with voting for GOP elites, unless Huckabee pulls off an upset.

Dacosta was ready to inflict the punishment he knows will speak to the leadership he believes has betrayed him. “As for Gary Bauer and Tony Perkins,” he said, “they will not get another red cent from me.”