While the attacks are on valid issues, at heart, the attacks appear to be because he is a former preacher from the South — a country bumpkin and a Jesus Freak. ~Erick Erickson
Well, yes, that is a very large part of the reason for the GOP and conservative movement establishment’s reaction against Huckabee. Additionally, their problem is that he is primarily a social conservative candidate in a party and in an election cycle where the social conservatives were supposed to sit down, be quiet and support the appropriate “national security” candidate. People in the heartland were, as usual, supposed to accept whatever the coastal elites–in this case, conservative coastal elites–threw at them.
There are two ways to express this frustration with Huckabee: to focus on his poor tax policy record and basically non-existent foreign policy credentials, or to belittle the college he attended and deplore his religiosity. The latter approach has started to become more popular. This is why many conservative pundits have focused their criticism on the “Christian leader” reference, his views on evolution and his alleged “insults” towards Mormonism. Religion is all very well and good for some of these elites, provided that it doesn’t get taken too seriously and doesn’t become too central. There are some in the conservative movement and the GOP who could in one breath defend evangelicals against the old insult that they are “easily led,” and who in the next will complain that those same evangelicals are not keeping in their place.
Some of this reaction is tied together with some pundits’ support for a Huckabee rival, and some of it is tied to legitimate criticisms of Huckabee’s record, but I think a lot of it is cultural hostility of some Republican and conservative elites to the broad mass of evangelical Christians who make up a significant bloc of the GOP. The latter are useful allies, but are otherwise treated as the unwanted stepchild that the elite would prefer to banish to the basement whenever possible. Thompson was an acceptable Southerner, because he was a Southerner who had adapted to Washington and was a lobbyist and actor, and he was someone who rarely attended church, while Huckabee represents, for good and ill, a lot of Southern Republican voters. Thompson was the sort of candidate who could, for some reason, get the base excited and appease the elite at the same time, except that he was, in practice, an awful candidate. Huckabee has captured Thompson’s supporters, but cannot satisfy the elite.
Combine some inherited distaste or unfamiliarity with the South among some pundits with the fear that the GOP is already too defined by its Southern wing and that it risks becoming a regional party (an overblown fear that once again tries to blame the GOP’s woes on cultural and social conservative politics of the Southerners), and you have a recipe for tremendous opposition to a Southern evangelical candidate. It is absolutely true that the reaction against him by the establishment has been disproportionate, considering how ready so many conservative pundits have been to give Giuliani free passes and the benefit of the doubt in every case: “He has indicted friends with mob connections? Why worry? He’s pro-choice? So what? Don’t you know there’s a war on?!” Huckabee’s rise was tolerable to these people so long as they could persuade themselves that it might help Giuliani capture the nomination, but now that he has become a more credible threat to Giuliani it has become open season. Support for Giuliani’s rise had already shown social conservatives that they and their agenda were not very important to the party leadership, and the withering contempt for Huckabee simply confirmed that understanding.
The New York-Washington Corridor of Conservative IntelligentsiaTM bristles at the idea that a back water social conservative from Arkansas has excited the base in a way the others haven’t. We were, after all, suppose to go for Romney or Rudy. They told us so.
Huckabee’s creationism is one of the things that I suspect irritates conservative elites the most. After all, how can they really accept someone who doesn’t accept evolution? Acknowledging the theory of evolution here really serves, as Rod mentioned in a recent bloggingheads in a slightly different discussion about Huckabee’s views, as a “cultural marker” that shows that you are sufficiently urbane and sophisticated. It is a mark of belonging to a certain set of the educated elite and a way of showing that you are not really one of those people who literally believe the Genesis account of creation. (Now there are perfectly good and correct exegetical and theological arguments against reading Genesis this way, but that is not what we’re talking about.) It is fine to humour those people with preposterous notions such as teaching Intelligent Design in science class (a position that has quasi-intellectual respectability), but letting them take prominent national leadership roles is really going too far. If voters perceive supporting Huckabee’s candidacy as a way to stick a finger in the eye of the party leaders, I think they may be just angry and disaffected enough to do it. As I said earlier today, the hostility of East Coast pundits may translate into an advantage for Huckabee’s popularity.
Update: John McIntyre has the elite anti-Huckabee roundup.