David Domke is Professor of Communication and Head of Journalism at the University of Washington. Kevin Coe is a doctoral candidate in Speech Communication at the University of Illinois. They are authors of the The God Strategy: How Religion Became a Political Weapon in America. To learn more about the book check out their handy website here, to read more posts by them click here. In the post below they bid farewell to Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee’s long-shot campaign should be remembered for what it was at its core: an unprecedented and dangerous implementation of “the God strategy.” Again and again, Huckabee showed he willing, even eager, to use religious faith as a political weapon.
Early in the campaign, Huckabee mobilized supporters in Iowa by running an ad touting himself as a “Christian leader” and saying “faith doesn’t just influence me, it really defines me.” The implied contrast to Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was hardly subtle.
Then, as he gained ground on Romney, Huckabee ducked and dodged when reporters asked if he thought Mormonism was a religion or a cult. He eventually affirmed in a New York Times story that Mormonism was indeed a religion—the one that “believe[s] that Jesus and the devil are brothers,” right? Huckabee apologized to Romney for the remark, but the desired damage was done.
So distasteful were Huckabee’s tactics that several prominent commentators, even some within the conservative fold, voiced criticism. Peggy Noonan questioned whether Ronald Reagan could survive the de facto religious test being imposed on candidates, and Charles Krauthammer correctly labeled Huckabee’s “exploitation of religious differences for political gain” as “un-American.”
Perhaps Huckabee just couldn’t help himself; maybe he truly believed that he was an agent of God. When he finally gained ground in the polls, after struggling for the first several months of the campaign, he suggested his rise was due to divine intervention: “There’s only one explanation for it, and it’s not a human one. It’s the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of five thousand people.” Even as his hopes of winning the nomination dimmed, Huckabee kept the faith. In February he told the Conservative Political Action Conference that he would continue his campaign, saying: “I didn’t major in math, I majored in miracles, and I still believe in them.”
There is an uncomfortable and all too familiar arrogance in a politician who believes that God is on his side. In a world where millions are denied sovereignty, where poverty and disease are widespread, where people regularly kill each other because of their differing religious views, one would like to think that God has more important things to worry about than getting out the Huckabee vote.
Huckabee’s insistence on making his run for the presidency a faith-based crusade was all the more disquieting because of its implications for policy. In January, Huckabee called for the U.S. Constitution to be changed to conform to his own religious views: “[Some of my opponents] do not want to change the Constitution, but I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God, and that’s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards.” Altering the Constitution based on one narrow interpretation of the Bible is, of course, exactly what the Founding Fathers sought to avoid.
And, after all of this—after doing absolutely everything possible to make religion the centerpiece of his campaign—Huckabee still had the gall to criticize those few journalists who actually scrutinized what his religious views might mean to his presidency. In February, he had this to say to the Christian Science Monitor: “There has been an attempt to ghettoize me for a very small part of my biography. The last time I was in the pulpit was 1991.”
Last in the pulpit in 1991; last in a political campaign in 2008. God willing, it will stay that way—for the good of faith and the good of the American experiment in democracy.