The 2008 Election: A Case Study

The following is part two of the Introduction for “With Christ in the Voting Booth.”

Randy Davis & Governor Mike HuckabeeFor more than three decades evangelicals had been praying for a presidential candidate they could support whole-heartedly. For a few months in the last election cycle, it looked like their prayers might be answered. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher-turned-Governor, offered himself at the Values Voter Summit in October of 2007, “not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you.” Huckabee would go on to become a top contender for the Republican nomination for President.

The same month Governor Huckabee spoke at the Values Voter Summit, however, a Wall Street Journal article by John Fund portrayed him as “harsh” and “hard-right” on social issues, but a fiscal liberal. It was a potshot heard around the world that would eventually be republished over four thousand times on the internet. The contrast could hardly have been clearer. Here is a guy that holds your views on the social issues (but is way too strident about them) and none of your views on anything else. It was supported with critical quotes from conservative stalwart Phyllis Schlafly. I believe this hit piece, more than any other, planted the seeds of confusion in the minds of many Christians. It created a template that Governor Huckabee could not overcome and prevented him from gaining the traction needed to win the Republican nomination.

Perhaps this is one reason well-known evangelical Christian leaders also went AWOL. In November of 2007, Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani, who was possibly the most pro-abortion candidate to ever run for President of the United States on the Republican ticket. Can you imagine any prominent evangelical. endorsing such a pro-abortion candidate when Robertson himself ran for president in 1988? I cannot. This shows how far the mighty Robertson has fallen in 20 years. This endorsement gave tacit permission for Christians to vote for candidates who were not pro-life, including Barack Obama. Meanwhile, James Dobson waited until after Super Tuesday to endorse Governor Huckabee when it was too little, too late.

A few evangelical leaders, like the late Paul Weyrich, one of the founders of the Moral Majority, later regretted not joining the Huckabee campaign. Here is a first-hand description of a post-election meeting of evangelicals that included Weyrich and Michael Farris, a homeschooling advocate and leading Huckabee supporter:

The room—which had been taken over by argument and side conversations—became suddenly quiet. Weyrich, a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, “Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong.” In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

Not all of the rank and file on the religious right backed Governor Huckabee, either. To show how important this was, consider the South Carolina primary. Huckabee only got 40% of the evangelical vote and finished 15,000 votes behind John McCain, a candidate who back in 2000 had insulted some evangelicals by calling Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance.” Despite that fact, McCain was able to split the remaining 60% of the evangelical vote with Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney. Had Huckabee been able to persuade even 10% of the evangelicals who voted for other candidates in South Carolina to support him, he would have won South Carolina and might be President today instead of Barack Obama.

It should be noted here, however, that even endorsement of a candidate by leaders of the religious right might not make much difference. In 2012, shortly before the South Carolina primary, many evangelical leaders endorsed Rick Santorum, who is Catholic. Nevertheless, he still finished third in that state behind Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Governor Huckabee’s candidacy raises several questions. How do the people of God sift through all the choices? Is there a “perfect” candidate for the Christian? Are moderates right when they tell us the general electorate won’t vote for social conservatives? What should Christians do if we are faced with someone who is right on abortion and the meaning of marriage, but differs with us on other issues? How important is it that a candidate be a Christian at all?

With Christ in the Voting Booth will offer a view of the relation of Christianity and State that is a needed corrective to bad habits practiced by Christian pundits and politicians, as well as the Christian who only considers politics near election time.

This book is mostly about principles and philosophy, with a little process and pragmatism thrown in for good measure. Most of the principles apply to the election of mayors, governors and legislators, as well as presidents. It is also about hope, though not the false, utopian kind of hope Barack Obama promised, nor the “take back the country” kind of hope argued for by so many on the right. It cannot come from an inherent trust in our governors* or the promises they make. Real hope for the Christian is found in God and His works.

Psalm 78:5-7 offers this multi-generational benediction, presented here from God’s Hymnbook:

His testimony and his law

In Isr’el he did place,

And charg’d our fathers it to show

To their succeeding race;

That so the race which was to come

Might well them learn and know;

And sons unborn, who should arise,

Might to their sons them show:

That they might set their hope in God,

And suffer not to fall

His mighty works out of their mind,

But keep his precepts all. (Scottish Metrical Psalter of 1650)

*Frequently I will use the single word “governors” in place of government officials. It is a synonym for the word “magistrate” as used by many theologians. I believe the Bible speaks much more about those who govern than the institution of government itself because people can be held accountable, “governments” can’t. Governors then means office-bearers at all levels of government, not just the heads of the jurisdiction called a “state”, such as Iowa.

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Comments

  1. Chotchk1968 says

    I am continually amazed at those who believed then, and still do now, that Mike Huckabee was the political messiah Christians had been praying for. To use this as an introduction to “With Christ in the Voting Booth” is to do nothing more than insinuate that Huckabee was God’s choice and Christians who didnt support him missed it using Weyrich’s personal admission as a case in point. There was a former President who also presented himself as being “from us” and that didn’t turn out so well. In the case of Huckabee we’ll never know. Let it go.

    • David Shedlock says

      If you read the book, you will see I make clear that Huckabee would be no savior or messiah. I have many disagreements with the Governor. You could not be further from the truth when you suggest (without reading the book) that I believe Huckabee was God’s choice. No, Obama was God’s choice.

      I do believe it was wrong to choose economic policy over the murder of unborn children as an issue, for example. And there is no question that Huckabee was treated unfairly, but some of the negative fallout was clearly of his own making.

      • Chotchk1968 says

        When the Huckabee enthusiasm started to take hold i recall conversations with folks whose sole reason for supporting him was that he was a pastor at one time. They could articulate no other reason. That is lethal in todays culture. Thanks for your clarification of the greater context laid down in your book. I continue to appreciate your efforts on behalf of the unborn.

  2. Chalkart says

    Another great article David. Leadership is influence. The ideal leader is someone whose life and character motivate people to follow. The best kind of leadership derives its authority first from the force of a righteous example, not merely from prestige, personality, or position.

    By contrast, much of today’s “leadership” is nothing but manipulation of people by threats and rewards. Real leadership is not about style, but character. Such a leader exists in the political world.