The GOP's 2012 Line-Up

Larison has a shrewd take on the bewildering dynamics of a dreadful field:

I have thought for a while that Huckabee’s personality could have some of the appealing all-things-to-all-people quality that Obama had during the election. If the economy remains a major issue in the next election, as it most likely will be, the sheer disgust economic conservatives still have for him could be worn almost as a badge of pride in the general election. An early opponent of the bailout, Huckabee could tap into populist dissatisfaction with the coziness of corporations and government without being pigeonholed as nothing more than an obsessed tax-cutter.

Huckabee isn’t going to have that chance.

Even if it seems irrational, movement activists who are not primarily interested in social issues distrust Huckabee intensely, and they will work to block him and deny him funding just as they did last time. The anti-Huckabee sentiment among movement activists is a useful reminder that all the Republican culture war defenses of Palin during the general election were aimed at mobilizing all the people whose candidate, Huckabee, they had just spent the previous 18 months mocking and ridiculing with all of the same language used against Palin. For turnout purposes, the GOP still finds Huckabee’s people useful, but its leaders and activists will not tolerate Huckabee taking the lead in the party as the nominee.

The effect this will have, as Stuttaford’s post suggests, is that most Catholic, mainline Protestant and secular Republicans will rally to whichever anti-Huckabee candidate appears strongest. This will most likely mean a coalition of voters arrayed behind Romney, who will then be a far weaker draw in the general election than Huckabee would have been. At first, that sounds implausible. Surely the more “moderate,” less “sectarian” candidate should be able to win more support, right?

No, not really, because the things that make Romney more attractive to non-evangelicals in the GOP also force him to spend more time trying to prove that evangelicals and social conservatives can accept him. Aside from the complication that his religion introduces into this, this means that Romney has to emphasize social issues, on which he has no credibility, and public professions of religious faith, which are some of the things that so many Republicans and independents find viscerally unappealing about what they perceive to be the norm in Republican politics.