I was watching the commentary in The Corner Thursday evening, and Mark Steyn, speaking of Huckabee's win in Iowa that evening, raised a concern about the evangelical surge there:
It would be truer to say that for a proportion of Huck's followers there is no aisle: he's their kind of Christian, and all the rest - foreign policy, health care, mass transit, whatever - is details. This is identity politics of a type you don't often see on the Republican side.I share that concern. Although I'm an evangelical Christian and a homeschooler, like many of Huckabee's supporters, I'm not one of his proponents, and I am concerned that his conservatism only goes as far as doctrine, not policy decisions.
If Steyn is right, and the Huckaboom is based on affinity for his doctrinal beliefs rather than his political principles, I doubt that Huckabee will be able to muster significant support outside the evangelical community. At the same time, if he leaves the race, this group of supporters is unlikely to swing its votes to Romney or to Giuliani, as either will be suspect on doctrine or on social issues.
So who would benefit if Huckabee folds? There is a strong libertarian streak in the homeschooling community, taking in both the evangelical and the secular sides of that movement, so Paul is a possibility; he already has home educators on board and working hard in his campaign, though he has other issues to address for the rest of the social conservatives. McCain has the war-hero status that attracts many in the evangelical world, but his maverick voting record has made many cautious about him and where he truly stands politically. Strangely, Thompson shares weaknesses with both Paul and McCain -- an unfortunate support for campaign restrictions, like McCain, and a strong federalist position like Paul, which some interpret as a lack of commitment to addressing moral issues from a federal level. On the other hand, I still think Thompson offers the most balanced platform and the most solid principles both philosophically and politically, so I have hopes he'll gain the attention and votes I think he deserves.
My feeling at the moment is that McCain or Thompson will benefit in the long run, but it's way, way too early to predict with certainty. Reagan lost Iowa in 1980, after all, and more than one ascendent campaign has fallen like Icarus in the warming days of primary season.