Mike Huckabee and the Future of White Nationalism

Patrick Ruffini writes:

Huckabee won women 40-26% (and men just 29-26%). He won voters under $30,000 by about 2 to 1. Cross those two, take away the Republican filter, and you’re talking about a general election constituency that is at least 2-to-1 Democratic. These are not people that conventional primary campaigns are designed to reach. These are the Republican voters the furthest away from National Review, other elite conservative media, and websites like this one. It’s easy to see just how the analysts missed the boat on this one.

Note that this constituency, which is at the heart of Grand New Party, has been key to Republican victories since 1980 at least. Jimmy Carter commanded the allegiance of many evangelicals on grounds of shared identity, and of course he lost it. But that was an early and innocent stage of evangelical identity politics. As a border-state governor with a moderate-to-liberal record, it’s easy to see Huckabee winning over culturally conservative Democrats. Yet it’s also easy to see Huckabee repelling those who don’t share his religious and cultural roots. Despite his aw shucks charm, it could be that Huckabee’s success means that the culture war is entering a new and more dangerous stage, in which Scots-Irish Chuck Norris-loving Bible Belt Christians became the latest grievance group demanding their own designated slice of the American pie. It’s easy to imagine ferocious attacks on Huckabee backfiring as evangelicals rally around one of their own. Sure, we can say he’s a Huckster – but how dare you say the same thing?

Imagine Mike Huckabee and Jim Webb squaring off in a vice presidential debate, the Noah Millman scenario. Both represent different faces of downscale identity politics, sunny vs. angry, yet both draw on broadly similar undercurrents of populist resentment. Moreover, the prescriptions they instinctively offer (Webb has basically been house-broken, on immigration and preferences, but thanks to the great Andrew Ferguson we have a sense of where his gut lies) are broadly consonant.

Nine years ago, Pat Buchanan wrote an interesting column on one of his perennial things: Euro-American exclusion from the Ivy League elite.

When foreign students and the children of alumni and faculty are factored in, only 25 percent of all slots at Harvard, wrote Unz, remain for that 75 percent of America that is non-Jewish white. Catholic ethnics and white Protestants are being crowded out of the Ivy League.

When I suggested that it might be time for Euro-Americans to demand affirmative action, the usual suspects answered with the usual invective.

Which direction will Huckabee’s populism take? Ross wants Huckabee

to pivot away from the pitfalls of Christian identity politics and toward a more ecumenical populism

and I agree. Huckabee needs to broaden his coalition. But it’s not the only path Huckabee has available to him. Rallying devout downscale evangelicals might not be enough to win the Republican nomination, but it does offer a lever of influence and power. At a slight remove, supermajorities of white voters have delivered a near-monolithically Republican South. My sense is that Huckabee is personally allergic to a white nationalist politics, in light of his instinctive immigration stance, but his dramatic shift on immigration, which itself reflects a desire to be led by his constituency rather than to lead his constituency, suggests that he’s willing to take Euro-American rabble-rousing further than it’s gone in a long time. Some will draw a direct line to George Wallace, which is both true and unfair: most of those who make the comparison are using it to polemical effect, to tar Huckabee with a racist brush despite the fact that Huckabee is manifestly not a racist. At the same time, Wallace did exploit an underserved political marketplace, in part by speaking frankly (and incendiarily) about crime.

I’m using scrupulously neutral language because I really don’t know how this will turn out. The scenarios I’m hinting at are sufficiently unrealistic given time constraints and the realities of media coverage that this is all capital-S speculative. I basically hope for a more responsive, more pro-growth politics and I’m open about how to get there. What I do know is that US politics has become far more interesting.

And another thing: in The New White Nationalism, Carol Swain argues that the narrowing of public conversation about race and immigration has fueled the rise of a chauvinist white nationalism, and that openness and debate are part of the solution. If we really are seeing the opening of debate, and a broadening of the permissible political spectrum, that could be a good thing insofar as it defuses white nationalist resentment: crankishness tends to recede under the pressures of coalition politics, though I know many Democrats who will disagree when it comes to the Republican Party. (Trust me, the cranks you have in mind are fully capable of being even crankier.)