This is one of the finest analysis of the election so far.
Why Huckabee Can't Drop Out
A funny graphic going around the Internet these days shows Senator John McCain and Governor Mike Huckabee in full debate mode. McCain says, "Since all of the moderates in the country have endorsed me, I think you should drop out of the race and let me fool the Democrats!" Huckabee replies, "Since all of the moderates in the country have endorsed you, I think conservatives should be able to vote for me."
This strikes at the heart of why Mike Huckabee seems to dig his heels in when operatives within McCain's campaign and the Commentocracy urge him to quit before voters in 20 other states have been heard. Huckabee clearly is not following any conventional political instincts in his decision to remain in the race until someone clinches the nomination. Instead, he's listening to the most vocal chorus of more than two million supporters who have yet to participate in the electoral process. Huckabee is the only means conservatives have of conveying a simple message to McCain: "If you want to be our nominee, earn it."
The political party bosses front loaded the nominating process to give moderates a better shot at bringing forth an early nominee from their ranks. Unfortunately, they didn't count on the presence of a strong and motivated conservative base this election cycle. Their hopes of repackaging Mitt Romney as a conservative fell flat -- none of his conservative views were realized before he opened his campaign headquarters. Romney is so prone to ideological fluidity that he originally endorsed Mike Huckabee, withdrew that endorsement so he could run, and then did a 180 kick-flip to grind his way into the McCain camp. Suddenly, McCain went from geriatric ultra-liberal to a national hero and man of substance. Such is the character of the people who occupy the highest rungs of the GOP ladder. While many conservatives were fooled into supporting Romney, thanks to an almost hysterical two-week rant from Talk Radio, a remnant of serious conservatives stood their ground, voting for Huckabee and for Fred Thompson. McCain's divide and conquer strategy proved more effective than Giuliani’s firewall in God's Waiting Room.
Even if the conservative remnant were foolish enough to fall for Romney's multiple personality disorder of a campaign, he didn't have a chance against McCain. Just before Romney dropped out, the math told the story: McCain at that point had 53% of delegates and everyone else combined had 47%. Pundits and historians will fiddle with facts for generations to come, but the bottom line is that the "Anybody but Romney" vote far outweighed the "Anybody but McCain" vote. The Establishment would have been happy with either man, since their objective is to have a moderate who can appeal to some Democrat constituency. They closed ranks behind the more liberal McCain as soon as he sowed traction. What better Republican to run against liberal Democrats than one who has supported them more often than his own party? If it was only about power and winning, this would be a slam dunk. Unfortunately, some of us still look for something intangible – like core convictions. Romney had none and McCain’s are fundamentally wrong for conservatives.
Huckabee, and to a lesser degree Fred Thompson, provided conservatives with an alternative "anti-Establishment" vehicle. The GOP Establishment and NeoLib conservatives had no way of anticipating that the conservative base had finally reached the tipping point of refusing to be the GOP's step 'n fetchers for yet another election cycle. The 2008 election cycle is proving to be a pivotal moment for traditional conservatives. Instead of staying home in droves as they did in 2006, conservatives may well bolt the party altogether if the rift is not healed soon. It cannot be healed by efforts to crush Huckabee's Quixotic insurgency. MEMO To McCain Camp: Huckabee's supporters aren't going to support you until the last delegate has voted at the convention. Even then, much rests in the person who will run with McCain. Without a real conservative on the ticket, all of the geotargeting in Huckabee's strong districts will not pursuade the political burn victims on the right.
Less than a month ago, GOP insiders were salivating over the possibility that a young and charismatic Democrat named Barack Obama would be crushed by the Clinton Machine in the most cynical and abusive way, putting a disillusioned African-American voting block up for grabs. The Perfect Storm of Bill Clinton's racial slurs and Obama's lack of gravitas did not come to fruition. Democrat Party bosses reined the former President in and many African-American leaders closed ranks behind Hillary -- for a few hours. In spite of his weakness as a potential leader of the free world, Obama's growing popularity is allowing him to ride a wave of feel-good 60's type Democratic politics -- possibly all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
What it means.
The GOP needs their base back. Even if Hillary is the Democratic nominee, Al Gore and other party leaders are trying to make an amicable end to the Democratic Party's current nominating disaster. The Democratic nominee will be poised to wage a generational battle of their Young Liberal against the GOP's Old Moderate. Conservatives need not show up. McCain cannot be recast as a conservative with any more credibility than Romney was. Without the Get Out the Vote efforts of disenfranchised Social Conservatives, McCain cannot win. He would be a fool to pick Romney or any other moderate as his running mate. He may not be thinking of Huckabee with any warm fuzzy feelings right now, but he needs to make a credible overture to the new generation of Social Conservatives. Establishment "OnceCons" like Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson and Phyllis Schlafley have no credibility speaking to this constituency. Their endorsements of “any elephant”, including moderates, over the past twenty years has proven that their loyalty is with pragmatic politics and not movement conservatism.
Conventional wiseguys tell us this new Social Conservative movement is uniting around the impossible hope that Huckabee could emerge as a standard bearer in a brokered convention. They are short sighted and shallow in their analysis. What is happening is a united effort among SoCons to take their place at the table -- even if they have to scorch the tablecloth in the process. If conservatives are not given an opportunity to vote their conscience and the GOP loses in the Fall, the fault will not be their intransigence. It will be the end of their 40 year journey of discovery that people of principle can never throw in with people of power and expect to come out with a clear conscience. The last few primaries will be their final feeble attempt at conveying this message to the moderates who run the party. It can be a reunion song or a breakup song.
John McCain and his OnceCon apologists are calling the tune.
This is one of the finest analysis of the election so far.