Ed flagged this Politico piece earlier but I want to pay special attention to Huck’s comments. Gabe Malor called BS on them on Twitter this morning. I think he’s right. Huckabee’s latest shot across the party establishment’s bow:
“The last two presidential elections, we had more moderate candidates, so if anything a lot of conservatives went to the polls reluctantly or just didn’t go at all,” said Huckabee in a separate interview. “If all of the evangelicals had showed up, it may have made a difference.”…
Huckabee, like Santorum, was a bit incredulous at the attempt to fault social conservatives when the party nominated two individuals who largely shunned talk of culture in the general election and were uncomfortable when they had to discuss issues like abortion.
“Nobody would say that these were guys that just light ’em up at the National Right to Life Convention,” cracked Huckabee.
In other words, lower social-con turnout for Romney last year proved that the party’s already on thin ice. Move any further to the center on, say, gay marriage and who knows what might happen? Just one problem: Unless I missed something, social-con turnout for Romney wasn’t lower. On the contrary, after months of liberal concern-trolling that conservative Christians might not show up on election day for a Mormon, evangelicals gave Romney the best turnout among their demographic that any modern GOP candidate has seen. Remember this exit-poll comparison published by Pew a few days after the election?
Not only did Romney match Bush’s share of white evangelicals from 2004, when Dubya and Rove famously used the gay-marriage issue to mobilize social cons, he actually did ever so slightly better among evangelicals than he did with Mormons. But wait: To say that Mitt matched Bush’s share isn’t to say that the same number of evangelicals turned out for both. It could be that 20 million voted in 2004 versus only 10 million in 2012, with the GOP nominee winning 79 percent of each. Is that what happened? According to the exit polls, no. In 2004, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of an electorate composed of more than 122 million voters; last year, they made up 26 percent of an electorate consisting of more than 127 million voters. As a share of the electorate and of total voters, Romney actually improved on Bush’s performance. The only way Huck is right is if the rate of growth among the white evangelical population between 2004 and 2012 should have pointed to even greater turnout last year than what we saw. I haven’t seen any data to that effect but I’m willing to be corrected.
If Huck is right that Romney’s too moderate for social conservatives’ liking, why’d they turn out for him in such high numbers? Simple: They’re not single-issue voters. Skim through the graphs compiled by the NYT’s Thomas Edsall a few days ago. On subjects like harmful government regulations and strong defense, white evangelicals top white mainline Protestants and white Catholics. They’re conservative more or less across the board, which is what the party establishment’s counting on if the nominee has to finesse the issue of SSM with a federalism dodge three years from now. The X factor is whether Huckabee, Santorum, or some other prominent social conservative pol will turn gay marriage into a litmus test. That’s what was missing from 2012 — maybe evangelical turnout for Romney would have been lower if Huck had agitated against him by reminding voters of his pro-choice past. But he didn’t. Social conservatives were roundly unified behind Mitt in the interest of defeating O, even when they denounced him as being the lesser of two evils. The one silver lining for the GOP in potentially having to face Hillary in 2016 is that she’s sufficiently polarizing to maybe keep social conservatives in the Republican tent even if they’re unhappy with the nominee’s position on SSM. With a lesser known Democratic nominee, the impetus to unite and defeat the great liberal threat might not be as strong.