Romney’s absurd marketing strategy enables Gov. Mike Huckabee
“WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee appears to be using Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith as a wedge issue to attract evangelical voters in the early states, political scientists say, a move that in part seems to be helping Huckabee stay ahead in Iowa polls,” writes Thomas Burr for the Salt Lake Tribune in an article titled Huckabee winning support by highlighting Romney’s Mormonism
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, aired a TV commercial in Iowa recently telling voters he is a “Christian leader,” a move that could be seen as a veiled hit on Romney, whose faith is viewed as heretical by some Protestant evangelicals. And Huckabee has so far refused to say whether he believes the LDS Church is a cult, as his Southern Baptist religion labels the church.
In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Huckabee goes even further when asked if he believes Mormons are cultists. While first saying he didn’t know much about Mormonism, Huckabee then asks the reporter in an “innocent voice”: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”
Some political observers say Huckabee, now the leading GOP candidate in Iowa polls, is raising the issues of Romney’s faith as a campaign tactic …
Gov. Huckabee’s line of reasoning is blowback, Romney’s blowback: a hard and furious negation in the form of a necessary complement to Romney’s line of reasoning. Shall we clarify our claim? Indeed we shall. Follow us, step by step …
(1) Consider Bernstein’s account of Romney’s line as delivered in The Phoenix:
… Romney’s similar [to Gibson’s] marketing challenge emerged this past year, when he and his advisors made the strategic decision to campaign as the conservative alternative option to Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, the perceived front-runners for the Republican nomination. That strategy would require Romney to win large numbers of votes from religious conservatives. Unfortunately for him, Romney had a long, well-established record of moderate and even liberal stands on a number of issues, including abortion.
So, like Gibson, Romney began spreading word of the anti-Mormon plots against him long before anyone knew who he was, let alone what religion he practiced. By late 2006, he was sitting for interviews with almost anyone willing to write about the “Mormon question” — landing him on the cover of almost every conservative publication in the country.
Romney also mimics Gibson’s strategy by de-emphasizing his own religious beliefs, even while speaking of the importance of evangelicals’ beliefs. Gibson, while avidly recounting his own “born-again” religious awakening and its importance on the movie, rarely answered questions about his pre–Vatican II Catholic beliefs. Romney professes the importance of his faith in Jesus Christ, while saying that the rest of his Mormon beliefs are out-of-bounds …
(2) According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Gov. Huckabee’s line with respect to Romney is to
(a) Follow Romney’s own line of reasoning by emphasizing what Romney himself tried to de-emphasized—to draw out distinctions where Romney has tried to blur them. As Romney himself argues with respect to Gov. Huckabee, “[Huckabee]’s obviously appealing to people of his faith, and that’s something that clearly opens the door to that inquiry.”
So too Romney: Romney opened the door.
(b) Call Romney’s bluff by enacting Romney’s own persecution narrative—a Parker and Stone (creators of South Park) gesture where the speaker or writer inoculates himself or herself against a charge of e.g. insensitivity by behaving so outrageously insensitively that the behavior can only be interpreted as ironic and satirical. For example, Gov. Huckabee asking “in an innocent voice”: “Don’t Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?” Painfully literal whimperers like Michael Novak took Huckabee’s bait and preened themselves on their sensitivity and correctness, little realizing that they had been mercilessly spoofed in advance.
Put differently: Imagine getting angry at a South Park episode because of how Parker and Stone depict e.g. the differently abled—well, you, the viewer, getting outraged is precisely the point because this is how Parker and Stone make their point!—and all the Michael Novaks in the world can fein righteous indignation little realizing that they have become a part of the joke, little realizing that the whimpering Novaks themselves are enacting the very point of the joke.
Our conclusion: as we argued elsewhere, Gov. Huckabee’s rise is an artifact of Romney’s own practices, policies, and lines of argument.
To be honest we always regarded Gov. Huckabee as a likable rube. Forced by rising poll numbers to take the former governor seriously, we have upgraded our assessment. The man is more subtle, attentive, and articulate than his rivals, especially Romney. Were he to win the nomination we would support him in the general election.
P.S. … to negate is to indicate an alternative, a neglected complement; it is to delineate a determination and to fix a definitive character.—Errol Harris.