Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas Governor, 2008 presidential candidate, current Fox talk show host, and perennial potential presidential candidate, has again weighed in on the marriage equality discussion.
Mr. Huckabee’s reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision making it more difficult for states to stop marriage equality made it clear that he is not ready to give up the fight, and more importantly, does not think the Republican Party should either.
“[I]f the Republicans wanna lose guys like me, and a whole bunch of still God-fearing Bible-believing people, go ahead and just abdicate on this issue, and go ahead and say abortion doesn’t matter either,” he said in a radio interview. Mr. Huckabee added that if the Republican Party continues does not dig in its heels on marriage equality and abortion, he would “become an independent,” and “start finding people that have the guts to stand.”
Huckabee’s words legitimately reflect the views of many social and religious conservatives who vote Republican in large numbers, but his threat is an empty one. While Republicans leaders would, on balance, rather have Mr. Huckabee and those who think like him than not, it is unlikely that any in the party fear that Mr. Huckabee, who could barely organize a presidential campaign operation, would be relevant politically at all if he became an independent. More significantly, this remark is the kind of thing that should be seen as an opportunity by smarter Republican candidates and strategists. Mr. Huckabee, and the voters who share his hope that the Republican Party will continue to put losing issues like marriage equality front and center, have no political leverage and hate the Democrats. This is the reason why threats like Mr. Huckabee’s are made very frequently by frustrated activists in both parties and almost never lead anywhere.
It is reasonably obvious that the best position for Republican candidates is to continue to oppose marriage equality, but not to make it a major issue in their campaign. This is a relatively easy needle for any semi-competent candidate to thread. There is, after all, a great deal of political space between Huckabee and, for example, Nancy Pelosi on this issue. Smart Republican strategists should not only recognize this, but should use noise of Huckabee’s comments as an opportunity to position their candidates better for the general election.
Rather than give in to Huckabee and his ilk, the strategically prudent decision would be to stand up to them. The first major Republican candidate to confront Mr. Huckabee–not by supporting marriage equality, but by pointing out that centering the party around a socially conservative platform that enjoys no support outside of the fundamentalist Christian right and older white voters is a losing strategy, and that people like Mr. Huckabee are not helping the party–will find it much easier to present him or herself as a centrist in a general election. This could be the first, and relatively easy, step towards positioning the Republican Party toward the future again. The other option, to take threats like those from Mr. Huckabee seriously and to continue to let social conservatives set the party’s agenda, is almost certain to fail.
Lincoln Mitchell is the national political correspondent for the Observer. Follow him on Twitter @LincolnMitchell.