With their champion out, will a new movement form?
By Lucas Roebuck
Huckabee, hanging on till the bittersweet end, is out of the 2008 presidential race, but the new social conservative movement that coalesced around his campaign will forge on.
This time last year, as Mike Huckabee started building his campaign to be president, few people expected he would be a contender. Huckabee, however, outperformed all but the most optimistic expectations — you know, the expectations of a miracle — by coming in second place from a field of over a dozen GOP hopefuls.
He won eight states and hundreds of delegates, but more importantly, across the country, millions of people punched his name on a ballot. Many of the people who voted for Huckabee were frustrated social conservatives (SoCons), who had found in Huckabee a voice like their own.
The modern conservative movement, which saw its first fruits in President Ronald Reagan's 1980 victory and revitalization in the Newt Gingrich's GOP revolution of 1994, has been a sometimes awkward alliance of social conservatives, fiscal libertarians and security hawks (or neo-cons). Of those three camps, social conservatives have almost always gotten the short end of the stick — getting lots of lip service from GOP politicians, but little passion.
SoCons, many of whom are evangelical Christians, have felt particularly used by the GOP establishment this election cycle. Gov. Mitt Romney, embraced by the fiscal libertarians, made what seemed to be a disingenuous switch on the social conservative issues of abortion and gay marriage. Sen. John McCain has a decent pro-life voting record, but would not support a constitutional amendment protecting life. One commentator noted that McCain is far more comfortable and passionate talking about global warming and carbon taxes than he is about protecting unborn children and traditional marriage. Mayor Rudy Guiliani made no pretense about his social liberalism.
Only Huckabee stood as a true champion of the SoCon, not just someone who was trying to shore up the SoCon vote. Huckabee was someone who had the same core passion for SoCon issues as the rank-and-file SoCon voter. Huckabee's candidacy showed just how much the SoCons as a voting bloc (at least 30 percent of the GOP base) has been used and abused by those whose primary interest is preservation of GOP party. Or just getting elected.
SoCons naturally gravitated to Huckabee, a gifted communicator, and propelled him into contender status.
Social conservative ideology is formed around two basic tenants of the role of government. First, the government is responsible for protecting life, and upholding the sanctity of life. Second, where government is involved in family issues (i.e. granting of marriage licenses, taxation structures), the government should favor traditional family structures. Social conservatism is informed by the Judeo-Christian worldview, and recognizes that the family is basic building block of a healthy society.
After spending scores of hours communicating and volunteering with fellow SoCons over the past few months at HucksArmy.com, what I see happening is the seeds if the new social conservative movement being planted. SoCons no longer feel they need to be content to hope for crumbs from the conservative table largely dominated by fiscal libertarians and neo-cons who have other priorities.
Old school social conservative leaders, mostly religious figures, have been content to sit in the shadow. Pat Robertson endorsing Guiliani, and National Right to Life endorsing Sen. Fred Thompson, come to mind as examples of complacency and acceptance of second-tier conservative status for SoCons.
What Huckabee has given social conservatives is desire to have a leading voice in the greater conservative movement. Huckabee may be out for now, but for a new wave of social conservatives, 2008 is just the beginning.