In a statement on American Family Association radio this week Mike Huckabee threatened to leave the Republican Party and take like minded voters with him over the establishments apparent turnaround on gay marriage. His tirade was lengthy, but came down to this:
“If the Republicans want to lose guys like me — and a whole bunch of still God-fearing Bible-believing people — go ahead and just abdicate on this issue, and why you’re at it, go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter, either.”
Huckabee may be overestimating his importance as a political leader. At most, based on past elections, his following is 6-8% of Republican voters nationwide. And Republicans may well want to lose guys like him because they’re more trouble than they are worth. Over the last 30 years the Republican Party has seen at least 12% of their loyalists become independents, largely because of issues like those which Huckabee champions. They now rely on an electoral strategy which depends on winning these independents back each election. Having a few more people go independent is not going to change that strategy, and the leadership is fully aware that when push comes to shove independent religious conservatives are very unlikely to vote Democrat even if the GOP has a few gay candidates.
Huckabee is a liability in a presidential election. He distracts religious voters in the primary, creates the illusion that they have an alternative to a mainstream candidate and draws the debate away from issues on which Republicans can beat Democrats to issues which are really of no importance to anyone but a vocal but minor constituency and cost Republicans votes in the general election.
The Republican Party has always been a big tent party, and leaders like Huckabee push people out of the tent, with exclusionary and intolerant rhetoric. They don’t just drive out the gays, but other minority groups also feel excluded, and a great many voters have gotten to the point where they won’t even consider voting Republican because of the negative connotations of a party of intolerance. Reversing this trend is becoming a critical priority.
Huckabee also carries a lot of other baggage. He is not just a religious conservative, he’s a big taxing, big spending, big government politician. If he were not so religious he would fit right in the Democratic party on every other policy. He has very little to offer Republicans except his religious views.
He is not God’s spokesman on earth and the Republican Party can still maintain its moral center perfectly well without him. It would still be the pro-life party and the party of conservative government. If he left he would only take those people who think mixing up church and state is a good thing. He wouldn’t take a big following with him, just a big ego.
For the Republican Party not about the 3% of gay voters or the 20% of religious voters. It’s about the 65% of voters under 45 who think that marriage equality is a moral issue they should support. To have a future the GOP needs them more than they need Huckabee and the rapidly aging demographic which thinks like him.