Can a Fractured G.O.P. Split the Difference With Huckabee?

And even though Mr. Huckabee is increasingly talking like a Tancredo-like immigration bully in the primaries, he also leavens that stand with McCain-style reminders that immigrants shouldn’t be punished for their honest aspirations—let alone see their children demonized for their parents’ alleged trespasses. He’s opposed President Bush’s veto of the Democratic Congress’s expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program, and even called for an investigation of Mr. Bush and other senior White House officials based on Scott McClellan’s reported revelations that false information about the Valerie Plame case originated from the White House’s very highest echelons.

But where Mr. Huckabee appears to pose the greatest discomfort for the Republican establishment is on economic grounds. He is given to denouncing globalization’s hardships on the campaign stump, and raised taxes 21 times in Little Rock (while also, he’s quick to point out, cutting them more than 90 times)—lifting the state out of a deficit and into a surplus in the bargain. That record has earned him the undying enmity of the antitax Club for Growth; the libertarian Cato Institute has given him a “D” grade based on his Arkansas fiscal record.

Still, the party’s business wing can’t launch a preemptive anti-Huckabee strike because it, too, is largely decoupled from the old G.O.P. governing coalition.

Grover Norquist, who as head of Americans for Tax Reform is the de facto policy pope of the supply-side right, has pointedly refrained from joining in on the anti-Huckabee assaults mounted by the Club for Growth and allied columnists like Robert Novak and Jonah Goldberg. Mr. Norquist recently told David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network that he looked kindly upon Mr. Huckabee’s centerpiece tax reform—institution of the national retail “fair tax”—even though the plan is sketchy, likely regressive and scarcely the vehicle to overpower and replace the I.R.S., as Mr. Huckabee claims it to be.

True, Mr. Huckabee has been more accommodating of Mr. Norquist than the group he likes to call “the Club for Greed”—he’s lately signed on to the ATR pledge to introduce no new tax increases from the White House. But it’s at least as striking that Mr. Norquist—best known for his pledge to shrink the state until it could be drowned in a bathtub—seems barely to blanch at a recidivist tax hiker like Mr. Huckabee. That could well mean that the reigning orthodoxies in the G.O.P. coalition are poised to switch places.

“As long as you could depend on the big shots in the Christian right to drink the Kool-Aid on taxes and all the rest of it, did you really give a shit about abortion?” says Mark Silk, author of the landmark study Spiritual Politics and professor of religion and public life at Trinity College. “There’s been some chatter from the left on the shifting field” on the Republican side, Mr. Silk continues. “They say, ‘Well, this proves all along that it’s the money guys in the G.O.P. coalition who control the thing.’ But I think that deeply fails to understand the nature of the Republican coalition. Yeah, there are the money guys, but then there are the people who have the votes. You’re not talking about symmetrical coalition partners.” Put another way: Should Mike Huckabee continue gaining ground in this unsettled primary season, the disenchanted evangelical set could be dispensing a whole new brand of Koo
l-Aid.