The double-edged sword

Rudy Giuliani must have been pleased when Mike Huckabee emerged as the man who could substantially depress Mitt Romney’s support in Iowa, and eventually as the man who would defeat Romney in that state. Giuliani could reasonably believe that Huckabee’s rise would (1) deal an early set-back to a major rival for the nomination and (2) continue to sap support from that rival and others in subsequent contests.
Moreover, this could be accomplished at no apparent cost to Rudy. Given the near diametric opposition between the two candidate’s views on key social issues and the tension between their economic views, it is difficult to imagine any of Huckabee’s support coming from voters who otherwise would be voting for the Mayor.
At another level, however, Huckabee’s rise could signal trouble for Giuliani. That’s because of the backlash to Huckabee’s rise, and the backlash to that backlash. The rise of Huckabee has produced extremely harsh criticism of the former Arkansas governor on multiple grounds, though not by Giuliani personally. That criticism (along with Huckabee’s rather self-pitying response to it) appears to be fueling resentment on the part of some evangelical voters and perhaps other social conservatives. The notion, as articulated by Huckabee, is that evangelicals are expected dutifully to “suck it up” and support the Republican nominee whatever his level of commitment to social conservatism, but as soon as one of “their own” seeks the nomination, he is slapped down by the party “elite.” As I’ve noted, this theme makes little sense, but there it is.
Even if this theme had never emerged (i.e., if Huckabee had remained a second-tier candidate), Giuliani would have been hard-pressed, as the Republican nominee, to turn out the evangelical vote in the numbers necessary to win the general election in a tough year. It seems to me that this task would be appreciably more difficult now that Giuliani’s path to the nomination must include the “taking down” (even if not by Rudy) of a staunchly pro-life Baptist minister.
UPDATE: Of course, given the present state of play Rudy’s attitude towards this conundrum might well be “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.” One way to cross it would be for him to put Huckabee on the ticket. That sounds like a long-shot — it’s questionable whether Huckabee would even run with a “pro-choice” nominee — but stranger things have happened.
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