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.



tom s. 01.05.08 at 6:19 pm

On (1), does it matter if he is on record congratulating Canada for preserving its National Igloo? here.


Ben Alpers 01.05.08 at 6:20 pm

That may be irresponsible speculation, but so much of the media’s coverage of Iowa seems to be based on pre-established narratives that have little to do with what’s actually going on that irresponsible speculation might be an improvement. See Jon Swift on analysis of the Iowa results.


Adam 01.05.08 at 6:23 pm

I can’t claim any great insight into this question, but of your four propositions, 2 seems the most outrightly dubious. In my limited experience with presidential campaigns, organization matters a lot, and assuming one will materialize is assuming an awful lot.

Proposition 3 also seems a bit off-kilter. It isn’t quite right to say that “Huckabee has little appeal beyond the evangelical movement.” Rather, Huckabee is actively despised by much of the Republican establishment, which is a different proposition entirely. Of course, this could break all sorts of different ways if it becomes clear he might actually take the nomination, but it’s certainly not a good thing for his campaign or his general election chances.


duus 01.05.08 at 6:29 pm

It isn’t quite right to say that “Huckabee has little appeal beyond the evangelical movement.” Rather, Huckabee is actively despised by much of the Republican establishment, which is a different proposition entirely.

i agree…but I would also like to point out that there is a big distinction between being despised by the republican establishment–which, i think, is the single most compelling reason why Huckabee will, a la Howard Dean but more so, never never never get the nomination–and being despised by Republicans. I think it was very telling to hear Romney’s son comparing his father favorably to Huckabee on all the things Huckabee defines himself as. I don’t think Huck is despised by the base of the party, by any means, even though he is despised by the party establishment. Of course, the party base is also despised by the party establishment: and the circle of life is complete.


Jonathan Dursi 01.05.08 at 6:35 pm

In my limited experience with presidential campaigns, organization matters a lot, and assuming one will materialize is assuming an awful lot.

Yes, but I think the point here is that while Huckabee doesn’t have much of an organization, he does have access to infrastructure that has been laid down over several years and many elections. Usually those two things come together, but Huckabee may have the latter without the former; and it might well be that it’s ultimately the grass-roots infrastructure that matters more than the hierarchical organaization.


paul 01.05.08 at 6:42 pm

I actually like #2, as it lays the blame for Huckmentum at Rove’s feet. When pastors are handing out voter guides in Sundays to come, you won’t see Romney or Ghouliani on there, and I suspect sleepy Fred won’t appear either.


Martin Bento 01.05.08 at 7:03 pm

If the anti-Huckabee forces don’t coalesce behind a candidate soon (and I suspect Guiliani and Thompson are already under pressure to drop out, and Romney being told he better produce soon), there will be a brokered convention. And Huckabee will lose, even if he goes in with a plurality. This will create a long-term, bitter split in the Republican party, a splendid thing.


Henry 01.05.08 at 7:04 pm

adam – the assumption isn’t that an organization will materialize, but that there is one already there, waiting to be taken over. The Republicans did an incredibly good job of organizing churches, getting them to provide information, encourage their people to participate etc etc in 2004. Much of that infrastructure is out there to be taken up by a candidate – and that Huckabee trounced Romney in Iowa with a shoestring operation suggests that whatever there is is his for the taking. It would be nicely ironic if the successful model for decentralized politics in the new millenium wasn’t Dean and the netroots, but the established networks of bible-thumpers. A possible analogy, although I am not sure _quite_ how far I would want to stretch it, is with the Goldwater movement in the 1960s, which similarly did an end-run around the party elite thanks to various clubs and local networks …


Martin Bento 01.05.08 at 7:05 pm

I guess what I said was more a prediction than an argument, but the underlying argument is that the money boys will not allow someone making populist economic noises and thumbing his noise at their authority to take control of the party. The real interesting question is what happens if the Republican party disintegrates?


ed 01.05.08 at 7:11 pm

Huckabee 2008 and Bush 2000 are virtually indistinguishable in terms of how they present themselves.


Crystal 01.05.08 at 7:31 pm

Well, Huckabee has the advantage of a) still being married to his first spouse (kinda like all of the Dems bar Kucinich) and b) not being known for mistreating his dog. Never underestimate how much people love dogs – I have to wonder if the Seamus-the-setter caper turned a lot of people off of Romney, even subconsciously?

Amanda over at Pandagon says that “the chickens are coming home to roost” for the Repubs now – or as Henry put it, the grassroots of evangelicals who are not aligned with the corporate Republican party line are proving to be an unexpected power. Amanda says that the “rubes” (her words) who are supposed to “show up and vote for whoever screams ‘Jesus!’ the loudest” are doing just that, and propelled Huckabee to victory in Iowa – and it’s come around to bite the Repub establishment in the butt.


mityaw 01.05.08 at 7:51 pm

How would Huckabee do against any of the likely Democratic nominees? In general, which republican candidate has the greatest chance of winning it all?


Arrow 01.05.08 at 8:05 pm

When a speculative bubble is in full swing, there are always those who say “I know it looks like this can’t go on forever, but this time is different, and here’s why.”

That’s what this sounds like to me. If something can’t go in forever, it won’t.


yucca 01.05.08 at 8:06 pm

two general points:

you appear to have ignored the difference between winning one state (even though the first), and winning many states over weeks and months. many of your points could be true for winning one state; but a sustained campaign multiplies chuckabee’s weaknesses


polls (and many other considerations) suggest that chuckabee is possibly the weakest republican (maybe bar ron paul) for november. this is an issue that will come up more and more if chuckabee does not die out with New Hampshire. and that, much more than the republican establishment, will hurt him bad.


Seth Finkelstein 01.05.08 at 8:24 pm

“It would be nicely ironic if the successful model for decentralized politics in the new millenium wasn’t Dean and the netroots, but the established networks of bible-thumpers.”

Bible-thumpers go out and vote. Netrooters rant on blogs and forums – to each other. The difference seems to be very clear when the metric is votes on the ground, versus punditry in the air.


jim 01.05.08 at 8:41 pm

Martin Bento (#7) has it more or less right, I think. Especially if Huckabee wins S. Carolina (which is quite likely), The People Who Run The Republican Party will pick one of the others, anoint him and money to the remainder will dry up in short order. Without loss of generality assume the anointed one is McCain. I haven’t checked the delegate allocation mechanisms, but I would assume that a straight Huckabee/McCain fight with McCain having the backing of the Republican establishment would result in McCain getting the nomination (I know Huckabee “won” the Iowa caucuses, but I wouldn’t bet on any of the Iowa delegates to the Convention actually voting for him!). Whether that would be a nomination worth having is another question. I have seen Clinton ’08 compared to Nixon ’68. There may be other comparisons to ’68 to be made.


The Raven 01.05.08 at 9:01 pm

Huckabee/Paul–for those really tired of lesser evils.


KCinDC 01.05.08 at 9:15 pm

First, if turnout for primary-type events continues to be depressed…

What are you referring to? Republican turnout for the Iowa caucus was significantly up from 2000, just not just as unbelievably up as the Democratic turnout.


c.l. ball 01.05.08 at 10:22 pm

Huckabee may have gotten evangelicals in Iowa to back him, but he put in a lot of time in Iowa. He has not done so in NH where he has very little support in pre-Iowa polls. His lack of organization in NH means that he will not get those pastors talking about him. The real test for Huckabee will be what happens in SC in late Jan. If he does well there, then I think he has a strong shot at the nomination.


Hedley Lamarr 01.05.08 at 11:29 pm

Don’t forget that we have at least one whole generation of American voters who have been raised by the teevee; they are quite ignorant, and will get the president they deserve, pace aWol hisself.


Eric 01.05.08 at 11:32 pm

With respect to (3), Henry, please put your political scientist hat back on. How do you know what you think you know?

A. You say “more than 80% of Huckabee voters in entrance polls were self-professed evangelicals” but is that what the voters said? What was the specific survey question that forms the basis of this claim?

B. Much has been made of the entrance polls indicating 60% evangelicals for the GOP caucus goers.

(i) How does that 60% figure compare to past turnout in Iowa? How do you know?
(ii) How does that 60% figure compare to turnout among the Democrats in Iowa?

C. What percentage of the general public are “self-professed evangelicals”? Or, if the answer to A provides broader coverage, what percentage of the general public fits the answer to A?


Steve Bainbridge 01.05.08 at 11:38 pm

If your irresponsible speculations are this thoughtful and well-informed, your professional political science must be darned impressive stuff. I particularly liked point # 2, which strikes me as being a key insight into Huckabee’s potential.


Russell Arben Fox 01.05.08 at 11:39 pm

It may well be that the numbers make it impossible for a candidate whose main base of support is evangelicals to win the primaries.

Has this been demonstrated beyong a doubt? I’m not certain it has. Certainly hard-core, church-voting-manual-receiving evangelicals have the organization and the motivation, and they got Huckabee on the map in the first place. But not all self-identifying Christians–especially the downscale-middle-class ones that seem to have voted for Huckabee In Iowa in large numbers–fit that description so completely.


Russell Arben Fox 01.05.08 at 11:41 pm

I see Eric in #21 just asked in more detail everything I was wondering.


Roger 01.06.08 at 12:00 am

Hmm, these comments sound like the comments made in 1964 as the establishment watched a nobody from Arizona take the Republican crown against the money man – Rockefeller in that case – the last minute establishment man – Scranton – at a convention that pretty much shit on Eisenhower. Who gamely came out for Goldwater. I don’t think it is impossible for Huckabee to win at this point – and it is a little odd to say that the man who couldn’t win Iowa (Glenn Greenwald quotes many Politico style pundits who smirked at the very idea) can’t win any other state. If anything, the Iowa polling seems to be overcontrolled by the Republican establishment. He needs money, but he has the friendliness factor down – Reagan’s secret weapon. Thompson was supposed to have that, but the Republican angel at his crib gave him Reagan’s other secret gift – perpetual snooziness.

The exception might just turn out to be Bush’s nomination. Dynasties often get pinched off at the primary level – Robert Taft, Ted Kennedy, and Nelson Rockefeller – who was the prince of the richest family in America – have suffered from this. Maybe Romney will too. Besides the fact that Romney comes off as a misbeggoten experiment in robotics.


Bruce Moomaw 01.06.08 at 12:37 am

An op-ed at either the NY Times or the Wash. Post last night (can’t remember which, or find it, at the moment) downgraded Huckabee’s chance of getting the actual nomination on the grounds that in your average GOP primary, evangelicals comprise only 40% of the GOP vote (vs. their 60% share of it in Iowa). If you take a look at CNN’s Iowas exit poll, however, if evangelicals had made up only 40% of the turnout Huckabee would still have run even with Romney (27% each).

Now add to this the fact pointed out by Klinkner — that a disproportionate share of GOP delegates will come from Southern states. So, while it’s very hard to see Huckabee actually winning the nomination, it’s very easy to see him — against two other opponents, say Romney and McCain — jamming up the delegate count on Feb. 5 so that no one is anywhere near a majority of delegates at the Convention (for he first time at any convention since 1952).

In that case, God knows what will happen. My guess is that the Establishment would try to heal the split by making Huckabee the running mate of Romney (or, if they absolutely have to take him, McCain) — but this is definitely going to be one bizarre fight.


Quo Vadis 01.06.08 at 12:54 am

I believe that Huckabee is likely to split the Republican party. He is a response to the early anointing of Guiliani and a sign to the evangelicals that they don’t have to settle. Huckabee won’t win the nomination, but he will set the expectations of many in the Republican base and those voters will sit this election out rather than settle for someone who doesn’t share their most important values.

I don’ think this could have played out better for the Democrats if it had been planned.


Crystal 01.06.08 at 1:09 am

Roger @ 25: Huckabee does have the Reaganesque gift of coming across as friendly, personable, and folksy, which Romney does not, and I think this helps Huckabee a lot. Thompson not only is sleepy, he has that young blonde trophy wife – and do not underestimate how much female voters, especially middle-aged and older ones, HATE that.

And no, I’m not voting for Edwards instead of Kucinich for the trophy-wife reason. I think Edwards is the one for the job insofar as he thinks about the class issue, the economy, and what to do about it.


Roger 01.06.08 at 1:44 am

Well, I think Thompson’s wife is the one who wants the presidency, whereas Fred just wants to be invited on shows with other old men to bloviate a bit. If she is a trophy, she’s reversed the Pygmalian dynamic – the trophy comes to life and pushes the sculptor. As for Kucinish’s wife, she seems a lot nicer than he is, and smarter, actually, from what I have seen of her. I don’t really know what Kucinich is doing.


Crystal 01.06.08 at 2:10 am

Kucinich is a little too radical, even for me (and I’m pretty liberal). Plus he has no real chance of winning, and while Edwards came in second to Obama in Iowa we can’t write him off yet. A lot of the people I know in my area are for Edwards, btw.

I find it interesting that the two current front-runners, Huckabee and Obama, as well as John Edwards, are from fairly modest backgrounds. No silver spoons (or feet) in mouths here. IMO this is part of their appeal. People want someone who they think is “one of them” and self-made rather than a scion of a corporate or political dynasty.


Eric 01.06.08 at 2:21 am

Bruce @ 26: I don’t think we should take those interpretations from the NYT or WaPo on faith. Let’s look at the empirical claims you’ve taken from them.

“…downgraded Huckabee’s chance of getting the actual nomination on the grounds that in your average GOP primary, evangelicals comprise only 40% of the GOP vote (vs. their 60% share of it in Iowa).”

Where does this 40% of the GOP vote as evangelicals come from?

“If you take a look at CNN’s Iowas exit poll, however, if evangelicals had made up only 40% of the turnout Huckabee would still have run even with Romney (27% each).”

This gets at several of the problems with the media gloss on the Iowa returns. Let’s look at the CNN framing.

Headline: “Democrats voted for change, GOP for faith and values”

The headline implies, of course, that the Democrats did not vote for faith and values. But if you look at the marginals on the same site, it seems that the faith and values questions were not asked of the Democratic caucus goers. An alternative explanation is that the questions were asked but not presented by CNN, MSNBC, etc. Let’s call that doubtful. And if the questions weren’t asked of Democrats, we have no basis for making any claims about the relative importance of religion on turnout and/or vote choice for Republicans vs. Democrats.

On the same CNN page, if you click through to the GOP entrance poll results, the marginals on the “evangelical” question indicate “Born-Again or Evangelical Christian?” That suggests that the entrance poll question was something like “Do you consider yourself to be a Born-Again or Evangelical Christian?” That’s speculation on my part; I don’t know the answer. My guess, though, is that if one had a national sample, you wouldn’t be too far from 50% answering yes to such a question.


Roger 01.06.08 at 2:38 am

Crystal, I don’t think of Kucinich as radical. I think are two types of candidates – those who want to win, and those who want to shape the race. Those are both honorable ambitions. Unlike a sport, like baseball, an election is not about who wins it, a symbolic and self closing goal, but about how we all live. That’s one of the real damages done to the process by the press – by making it more like a sport, it makes it seem like the only ‘serious’ business of elections is winning. But that isn’t true at all, obviously, since the early 1800s. Elections are just one of the set of tools the citizen has in a democracy – it becomes more and more of a joke as it is treated more and more like a sports contest. The shapers are important, which is why political journalism is so disgusting, so much the instrument of vested interests, so anti-democratic. That Fox is getting away with excluding Paul, for instance, is a scandal. They should be severely fined for that by the FCC, or at least forced to mark the debate down as an advertisement for the candidates debating there instead of as a civic exercise.

However, Kucinich has given up trying to be shaper.


Eli Rabett 01.06.08 at 2:47 am

Huckabee splits the theocrat vote. There is no way that conservative Catholics are going to vote for a guy who thinks they are damned.


Martin James 01.06.08 at 6:14 am

A few points.

McCain ticked off the money with all the campaign finance reform crap that make it more cumbersome for the biggest money to have the biggest influence.

Romney can stay in the game with his own (and other Mormon’s) money.

Guiliani will still get votes in the big states FL and NY.

The key to Huckabee is the South. The South has the most realpolitic voters in the USA. They vote to win, period. Bible thumpers in the South are different from elsewhere because they are the majority they don’t need to vote for them every time out. If the South thinks Huckabee can win it all, he’ll win the South, if not he won’t.

Don’t forget, in the last several elections, the tallest candidate wins.


amrood 01.06.08 at 9:14 am

NH debate vs. an NFL wild card game.
I wonder which show had the higher ratings.


William Burns 01.06.08 at 1:06 pm

Martin James:

Kerry was taller than Bush.


Martin James 01.06.08 at 3:33 pm

William, we’re talking primaries here. In jest.


MSS 01.06.08 at 6:51 pm

Roger, at #32, makes one of the most profound statements about what voting and political competition should be–and how our process tramples on what should be the fundamental exercise of democracy–that I have read in some time. (And I think I know something about voting.)

I would be curious to know how Roger (or anyone else) would understand his claim that “Kucinich has given up trying to be shaper.” Given the media environment Roger describes, the electoral rules, the campaign finance system, and other limitations on American “democracy,” what could Kucinich do to be a “shaper”?

Is anyone who is not focused single-mindedly on winning, and thus raising issues outside the mainstream, doing any better at shaping, given the constraints?

Mike Gravel, for example, by making fundamental political reform his signature issue for anyone who will pay attention? Ron Paul, by being more outspokenly anti-imperialist than even Kucinich would dare?


roger 01.06.08 at 7:29 pm

MSS – I think Kucinich actually campaigned in 2004, instead of just showing up for tv.

Now, if he – or some Dem – had really wanted to do some shaping work, last year in Spring they should have taken a leaf from RFK’s book, and Ron Dellums, and use the power to hold hearings ELSEWHERE THAN D.C. RFK used hearings he held in South Mississippi on poverty to publicize the issue in 65 or 66, I can’t remember which; Dellums held extensive hearing in a number of cities across the U.S. on the Vietnam war. If the brain of the Dem party hadn’t been eaten by consultants in 1996, the no brainer thing to do, in Spring of last year, would have been to break out of D.C. and hold exactly those kinds of hearings about Iraq in a number of major U.S. cities.

Now, that would be wonderful shaping work – but you wonder whether the Democratic establishment would like it.


A. Y. Mous 01.06.08 at 7:54 pm

Why is so much effort and thought wasted on Huckabee? Even a nine year old knows that he will not get the nomination. That is for sure. Proof?

“Arrogant foreign policy
We need 400,000 troops
Don’t let politicians get involved
Leave it to military with blood on their boots.”


MSS 01.06.08 at 8:22 pm

Thanks, Roger.

Well, Kucinich did hold a hearing in Fallbrook, but one guesses it earned him few votes (there or elsewhere). It certainly did not shape the race.


c.l. ball 01.07.08 at 1:22 am

If Huckabee ends up w/ 20% of NH, I’d say there is something to Henry’s argument.


David in NY 01.07.08 at 2:37 pm

Has anybody noticed that No. 2 is illegal? Those pastors who are organizing for are violating tax regulations and clearly ought to lose their tax deductions.


Henry 01.07.08 at 8:47 pm

Eric – I got the figure in question from this “NYT story”: The piece claims that evangelical turnout was around 40% in previous elections. I don’t know the source for their claims, but this isn’t the kind of question where ambiguities in the phrasing are likely to produce artefacts, so I imagine that it is unlikely to be far off the truth. More bradly, my understanding as a non-specialist in this particular area of politics is that, to put it mildly, the general public perception that evangelical Christianity correlates strongly with Republican voter ID is, to put it mildly, supported by the polling evidence.

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