Huckabee and anti-Mormonism

Russell Arben Fox has a new post about — among other things — the damage Mike Huckabee did or may have done to Mitt Romney’s campaign, and whether religious bigotry played a part in Huckabee’s rhetoric or in how it was received by his conservative Christian audience. In the process Russell quotes an email from a Mormon friend who says:

In listening to Huckabee supporters on TV and radio for the past month, it's clear that most of them have a profound distrust and often contempt for Romney, which makes it easy for me to assume that anti-Mormon sentiment plays at least some role--possibly a big role--in Huckabee's success. His continued Romney baiting--often in expressly religious terms--suggests that he's not unaware of that prejudice. ("Tonight, we are making sure America understands that sometimes one small smooth stone is even more effective than a whole lot of armor." So he's David to the evil Goliath. "And we have also seen that the widow's mite has more effectiveness than all the gold in the world." He's the hero of Jesus' parable and Romney is a Pharisee.)....

I just want to make, or try to make, a distinction here. I would argue that what Huckabee was doing in the lines Russell’s friend cites is not baiting Romney in “explicitly religious terms,” but rather baiting Romney in ordinary political terms through the use of Biblical metaphors. There’s not necessarily any Christian or religious content to those statements by Huckabee: it may be that he was just positioning himself as an under-funded under-dog to Romney’s fantastically wealthy front-runner. And given the audiences to which Huckabee habitually addresses himself, at least primarily, and given Huckabee’s own preaching background, it’s the most natural thing in the world for him to use Biblical images to make his points, because those images are the rhetorical coin of the realm.

Of course, there could be more to it than this. For instance, it’s possible that Huckabee wants people to see him as David in some deeper sense, as the marginal figure who comes out of nowhere to lead his people precisely because he is divinely chosen and ordained for the job. Maybe Huckabee really does have that Messianic self-image. But it’s not obvious to me that his Biblical rhetoric is carrying that much freight. It’s important to remember that Huckabee comes from (and often speaks to) a subculture in which the stories and images of the Bible are still an essential part of people’s formation — a subculture in which, when a speaker reaches for a metaphor or illustration, something from the Bible is likely to be the first thing that comes to hand. And Huckabee would be likely to use this kind of language whether his opponent were a Mormon, a Catholic, or a fellow Baptist.