It can’t be anyone else. Giuliani’s teflon is wearing thin, Thompson can’t stay awake long enough to answer a question, McCain is against torture, and Romney is damned by his religion and his flip-flopping.
Huckabee’s problem with the theocons has been that no one thought he could ever break out of the pack. Theocon leaders tried to bet on likely winners, and theocon voters were left without a candidate of their own. But now that Huckabee is moving up in the polls, why should the evangelical base of the party accept a Romney or a Thompson as their guy if there’s a serious candidate who’s actually one of them?
Huckabee’s other problem has been with the money-cons. Grover Norquist and Steve Forbes hate him because he isn’t a complete anti-tax fanatic, and actually went along with a tax increase when he was governor. They’d love to show that they can punish Huckabee for his heresy, thus increasing their capacity to mau-mau other Republican officeholders.
But people who define their politics in terms of being against taxation are generally (Ron Paul supporters excepted) somewhat more subject to reasoned argument than people who define their politics in terms of hating gays. The serious money people — both individual greedheads and the NAM/Chamber of Commerce businessfolks — aren’t nearly as interested in theological purity on the tax question as they are in making sure that their taxes don’t go up. For their purposes, any Republican is better than any Democrat, and if Huckabee can get more votes in a general election than Romney, they’re not going to stick with Romney.
So it seems likely to me that Huckabee’s rise will be self-reinforcing. Money is going to flood in to his campaign, and dispirited Republican voters will flock toward someone who doesn’t look like an obvious loser.
It would be a mistake for Democrats to underestimate Huckabee. He’s got his “Willy Horton” problem — actually much worse than the problem Mike Dukakis actually had with Horton, since Huckabee personally intervened, for crassly political reasons, to free a rapist who then committed another rape and murder — and I hope the Democratic candidate won’t have any compunction about wrapping it around Huckabee’s neck. But he’s not a hater or a lunatic or a fool. He’s personable, funny, and apparently for the most part a decent human being. I still think Obama would eat his lunch, but Huckabee v. HRC could be much too close for comfort.
Footnote Huckabee’s religiosity seems to bringing out the worst sort of anti-fundamentalist bigotry among some of my secularist friends. It seems strange to me that people who find it foolish and disgusting that some Christians won’t vote for someone whose church teaches that God has multiple wives are themselves willing to denounce someone as a boob and a fanatic (I’ve seen Huckabee referred to as “the merry mullah”) because he insists on believing that men and women were made in the Image of God.