As I said when I reviewed his book, I think Sullivan’s entire theory about the GOP as a “religious party” dominated by “fundamentalists” gets things badly wrong. The “theocon consensus” to which Sullivan refers is one against which the party and movement establishment has been violently protesting for the last year, and one that prominent figures in the movement consigned effectively to the margins over ten years ago when the actual “theocons” were perceived to be questioning the legitimacy of “the regime” over the issue of abortion. Party and movement elites really don’t want religion to have much of a meaningful role, and not just in the selection of candidates. They prefer to use it largely for symbolic appeals and GOTV efforts, and things have reached a point where Christian conservative voters may have had enough of empty gestures and manipulation. The drive to marginalise social conservatives and blame them for the party’s defeat last year and the Giuliani candidacy both showed that a significant part of the Republican Party’s leadership was trying to become even less focused on religious and social issues than it had been. These attempts are failing, but that they were made at all shows the priorities of the leadership of what is still a very secular party. What exacerbates the cultural hostility to Huckabee is the association of his evangelical Christianity with a politics of what Reihan has sometimes called the “lower-middle”–this makes Huckabee both culturally different and potentially somewhat opposed to the interests of corporations and leads him to favour trying to secure the economic interests of these voters.
Sullivan perceived galloping fundamentalism when religion was used mainly a stage prop by the GOP. Now other secular conservatives are freaking out at the prospect of voters backing a religious conservative who seems to take religious conservatism seriously. The general conservative rejection of Sullivan’s thesis was partly an acknowledgement that the GOP was very far from being anything like a “religious party.” The current backlash against Huckabee is part of the effort to make sure that religious voters don’t upset the current arrangement, in which religious conservatives receive lip service and are supposed to accept gratefully whatever they are given.