“The Romney campaign’s February 5th math is simple: move all the voters from the Huckabee pile onto theirs and claim a majority of conservatives,” writes the estimable Patrick Ruffini, an “Ex-Bush aide/Giuliani aide/current Romney endorser,” as described by Marc Ambinder, in a blog burst titled Intransigent Huck Voters

Unfortunately, continues Ruffini, it’s just not that simple.

In the South — still more delegate-rich per capita than NY, CA, NJ, IL, etc. — the “conservative” vote, defined as Romney + Huckabee, is splitting down the middle. Most polls down South look like McCain 30, Huckabee 25, Romney 25. We’ve seen how this played out in South Carolina, except there it was establishment conservatives refusing to take the advice that they play ball with Huckabee to strengthen their hand in Florida. We also saw it in rural northern Florida, where in many cases it was a three man race (and often a two man race between McCain and Huck).

The problem with this analysis is that I’ve seen no evidence that Huckabee voters would go to Romney. On a county level, the Romney and Huckabee votes are negatively correlated, with Romney representing the conservative side of the Chamber of Commerce/Rotary Club vote and not really showing outsized strength with Evangelicals [...]

[...] There is a message in these returns to conservatives busy soldering together the coalition below decks: do not assume that just because they’re all pro-life, that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham speak for the social conservatives Romney needs next Tuesday. They don’t. Being pro-life and pro-marriage is not enough. To understand what Huckabee voters want, you need to actually appreciate what Mike Huckabee brings to the table, which is an emphasis on faith, undiluted. Many conservatives, particularly those around here, do not. While many of us agree on the social issues, the conservative establishment resented how he injected his religion into the campaign. Never have I seen conservatives so readily repeat the Barry Lynn/ACLU line on the “wall” between church and state.

It’s instructive to study how George W. Bush united the conservative coalition eight years ago. He did so not as a Mitt Romney Republican but as a Mike Huckabee Republican. The only thing Bush offered fiscal conservatives was tax cuts. The rest was Catholic social thought. Say what you will about him, but Bush has never gone squishy on a single social issue in eight years. But has gone wobbly on fiscal issues, leading to a revolt in the conservative establishment. As Bush knew, and as we are re-learning with the rise of John McCain and the intransigence of Mike Huckabee’s base, fiscal conservatism is where the opinion leaders are, and social conservatism is where the votes are.

Mitt Romney is trying to unify the party as a business guy from Belmont who is culturally as far removed from Suwannee County, Florida as you can get. He’s going about it very clinically: vote for me because I’m not McCain. But I’m not sure that message holds much sway with an audience that takes its cues from Christian radio not News/Talk and certainly not National Review. And notice his message: it’s all about the economy, and nothing about Life and only a little bit about marriage. Christian voters have noticed.

Romney is pinning his hopes on brining in the social “leg of the stool.” But though they’re not wild about McCain, I’d venture that a plurality of these voters would rank Romney third [...]

[...] Specifically, it seems to me that the conservative establishment’s decision to go nuclear first on Huckabee (who never had a shot but speaks for voters we need in November) before McCain (who always had a shot but speaks mostly for himself) will rank as a pretty serious strategic blunder [...]

We concur. Only it was Romney went nuclear on Gov. Huckabee, and at great cost. See:

Marc Ambinder comments on Ruffini’s analysis in a blog burst titled Republican Coalition Politics

[...] Left unasked is precisely why the establishment felt more threatened by Mike Huckabee that it did by even John McCain. And not just the pro-business, anti-tax wing of the professional conservative establishment: the faith wing, too, from the Family Research Council to various members of the Arlington Group who cast their lot with Fred Thompson, a conservative, to be sure, but someone of an undefined protestant faith who didn’t seem to go to church much.

My theory — and it remains a theory — is that Huckabee threatened these interests so much because he never depended on them in the past and would never depend on them in the future. In the sense that these interests mediated between leaders and rank-and-file conservatives, Huckabee was able to bypass the mediators and speak directly to faith voters — the hard core corps of moral conservatives who tend to compromise about 20 to 35% of any given electorate, more so in the South and Midwest [...]

Only now it begins to dawn on Republicans just how much damage Tribe Romney has done to the base.

yours &c.
dr. g.d.

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