Huckabee’s Super Tuesday Resurrection

A few days ago I wrote about the pundits’strange inattention to the precipitous fall of Mike Huckabee’s campaign. Well, stop the presses, at least for a moment. That moment lasted a few hours on the night of “Super Tuesday,” when the talking heads were all about Huckabee’s impressive comeback—which was, of course, really all about the comeback of Huckabee’s base, conservative evangelical Christians, as a political force to be reckoned with.

But as I listened to CNN trumpet the resurrection of evangelical political power, I looked at the numbers. Huckabee won his own state by a huge margin. But in Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee he ran only two to four percentage points ahead of John McCain. Granted, he came within one point of beating McCain in Missouri. But outside the South the races were not nearly that close. Huckabee lost in every other state by large margins. (By a strange coincidence, his losing number was exactly the same in the giants, New York and California: a not so resounding eleven percent.)

Before dawn, the pundits had looked at those numbers too, and Huckabee’s “resurrection” had largely disappeared from the headlines. Now you see the evangelicals, now you don’t, now you do again, now you don’t again. It was a replay, in miniature, of the 2004 election, where the talking heads rushed to give evangelicals more credit for political clout than they deserved. Only a few more sober instant analyses, and a lot more long-term analyses that came in the following weeks and months, placed the slim Bush victory into a more accurate perspective. They saw that evangelicals probably wielded no more power in ’04 than in the previous couple of elections.

So apparently one of my speculations of the other day—that the pundits are so happy to see Huckabee fail, they don’t want to draw attention to him—was wrong. My other speculation — that they had significantly overstated the strength of the religious right at least since Election Day 2004 (and actually far earlier), and now they don’t want the evidence of their mistake made too public — may be more on target.

But I see another pattern emerging. Evangelical success is a sexy story in the media. So many non-evangelicals find the whole religious right phenomenon fascinating. It sells newspapers and raises TV ratings. When the limits on evangelical political power—which are quite sizeable—appear, readers and viewers disappear. It’s just not a sexy story. Why that should be we can leave for another day. Here it’s enough to note this interesting cultural fallout from “Super Tuesday.”