by Henry Farrell on January 5, 2008

A sort of follow-up to my last post, which began from the assumption that Huckabee had zero chance of winning the nomination. But what if he does? NB that I’m wearing my Irresponsible Speculator hat, not my Professional Political Scientist one in saying this; I’m not the kind of political scientist who knows this stuff at all well in the first place, and I haven’t gone to the trouble of going through the relevant data and articles so as to partially educate myself. But if I were to argue against those who say that Huckabee just can’t win the Republican nomination, my case for the defence would go something like this.

(1) Part 1 of the case against Huckabee winning is that he’s self evidently clueless about international politics, and has bizarre ideas about domestic politics. But does this _really_ hurt him with a Republican base which has been primed for decades to believe that book-larning and expertise are the tools of Evil Coastal Elites. Attacks on his lack of _savoir-faire_ seem to roll off his back, or perhaps even to make his supporters more enthusiastic. Case in point: his ‘negative advertising without negative advertising’ press conference, which was widely portrayed by media elites as having cooked his goose, but which doesn’t seem to have hurt him one bit.

(2) Part 2 of the case against is that Huckabee doesn’t have any sort of real organization. His decisive win in Iowa demonstrates that he doesn’t need one, at least in states that have a strong evangelical movement. He can rely on the pastors getting out the vote for him. This is one that I’m pretty convinced of – he’s demonstrated that much of the conventional wisdom on the need for organization was wrong. Think of this as the evangelical’s revenge on mainstream Republicans. Much of Karl Rove’s success in 2004 depended on using below-the-radar forms of organization in churches etc to get the vote out. This has created an infrastructure that Huckabee seems to be taking over in the absence of any other real evangelical candidate.

(3) Part 3 of the case against is that Huckabee has little appeal beyond the evangelical movement, and that on its own can’t swing it. This seems true on the basis of Iowa – more than 80% of Huckabee voters in entrance polls were self-professed evangelicals. But while this is the strongest element of the case against Huckabee, it may not be determinative. First, if turnout for primary-type events continues to be depressed, it’s highly plausible that evangelicals (who have their candidate and their cause) are going to be more likely to turn up than other Republican voters, giving Huckabee an advantage in states where the evangelicals can plausibly swing it. Second, it doesn’t look as though Romney, McCain or Giuliani are going to pull out any time soon, splitting the non-evangelical vote three ways (or four, if Thompson stays in too) for a while. Third, as noted in an update to my previous post, “Phil Klinkner”: argues that Huckabee has an in-built edge because the Republican convention awards lots of bonus delegates to states that support Republican candidates, meaning that the South (with its evangelicals) has disproportionate clout. This seems an _extremely_ stupid policy for a party that wants to expand its appeal, but there you go.

(4) Part 4 of the case against is that Huckabee doesn’t have much money to advertise on TV. But he may be able to raise it in short order (again, evangelicals have excellent fundraising networks), and furthermore, he may not _need_ TV advertising in the primaries as much as conventional candidates. His core voters (a) aren’t likely to change their minds about supporting him easily, and (b) are likely to turn out regardless of people saying mean things about him on the TV.

This is all, as noted above, irresponsible speculation. It may well be that the numbers make it impossible for a candidate whose main base of support is evangelicals to win the primaries. But I haven’t seen any study so far that really demonstrates this (I’d like to see one if it exists). Obviously, feel free to raise objections to any and all of the above claims in comments, or raise new issues as appropriate.