Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is a former Baptist minister with a hick name, who has received the enthusiastic endorsement of such luminaries as pro wrestler Ric "Nature Boy" Flair and karate expert turned actor Chuck Norris. Huckabee is opposed to gay marriage and civic unions, accepts the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, and he thinks that creationism should be taught in the school. For understandable reasons, he is popular among conservative Christians, especially in the South. Newt Gingrich has called Huckabee "the most interesting dark horse" in the current race for the Presidency, and recent polls have shown that he may well have a good chance of beating out Mitt Romney in both Iowa and New Hampshire, despite the fact that Romney has vastly outspent Huckabee. If Huckabee can pull off an upset in these two states, he will be a figure to be taken seriously. The question is, Is this bad news or good news?
For Christian fundamentalists, it will obviously be good news: support for Huckabee requires no morally debilitating equivocation. A person who believes that abortion is wrong can vote for someone who shares and supports his own view. Such a voter will not need to explain his vote to himself, his community, or his God. In his fight for his party's nomination, Huckabee will attract many voters who might vote for Attila the Hun on election day, in order to defeat Hillary Clinton, but who, without Huckabee on the ticket, would simply sit out the primary. Thus, a Huckabee surge in Iowa and New Hampshire could make Giuliani seem less "inevitable" in a race where the mere appearance of inevitability may well be a candidate's greatest asset. Americans, who don't mind wasting anything else, don't like to waste their votes, and will often hold their nose to vote for an unpalatable sure thing; but if Christian fundamentalists think that they may have a real winner in a man who believes in everything they believe in, the Republican party may find itself in the middle of the world's biggest tent revival.
Against this scenario it may be objected that a strong showing in Iowa by Huckabee would at best be a replay of the Pat Robertson's second-place finish in that state's 1988 primary: a religious conservative wins in a religiously conservative state, but goes on to defeat in subsequent primaries. But this objection overlooks a number of important considerations. First, Robertson's opponent in 1988 was the incumbent Vice-President George Bush. In 2007, in contrast, the Republican to beat supports both abortion and gay rights. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Robertson and Huckabee represent wholly different styles of Christian fundamentalism. Robertson, to put it bluntly, scared people; Huckabee doesn't.
Of course, for many Americans, all Christian fundamentalists are pretty scary. In certain enlightened circles today, Christian fundamentalists are looked upon as "our" fanatics, and it is unlikely that those who hold this point of view could ever accept a former Southern Baptist minister as a candidate for Presidency—but then, how many who hold these views will be tempted to vote for any Republican in the first place? So the real question for Huckabee is a simple one: Can he persuade people who are not Christian fundamentalists to support him?
There are two ways Huckabee could win such support. First, he could get people to vote for him despite the fact that he was once a Southern Baptist minister, just as many people support Mitt Romney despite the fact that he is a Mormon—or, going back to an earlier analogy, the way many people voted for John F. Kennedy despite his Catholicism. But there is another possible way: Huckabee could win over people who are not themselves Christian fundamentalists, but who are deeply convinced that at this point in history we need a leader who sees the world in starkly, perhaps even simplistic, moral terms, as a struggle between light and darkness, good and evil.