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Huckabee As Pitchfork Pat, Minus The Pitchfork

New York magazine's John Heilemann has an interesting column up today comparing Mike Huckabee with Pat Buchanan. I have a few quibbles--I don't think Huckabee's worldview is even close to being as coherent as Buchanan's (it may not even be coherent enough to call a "worldview"), and, unlike one of Heilemann's sources, I think this thing called the GOP establishment still exists and could ultimately thwart Huckabee's candidacy--but it's a smart, provocative take on the Huckabee phenomenon. See this in particular:

On countless levels, however, 2008 is aeons away from 1996, let alone 1992. In each of his races, Buchanan was trying to topple a genuine, formidable front-runner: a sitting president, a Senate majority leader. But today it’s evident that, after a year of frantic campaigning, no such creature exists; indeed, Huckabee’s leap into the top tier is itself vivid proof of the point. The GOP too is a very different beast from what it was in the nineties: no longer the majority party in Congress, its foundations crumbling, its leadership dazed, confused, and helpless. When I recently asked a senior party operative if the Republican Establishment could block Huckabee from the nomination, he replied, with a tiny chuckle, “What Republican Establishment?”

More to the point, the conditions on the ground are arguably more conducive to populism now than in Pitchfork Pat’s heyday. In 1996, after all, the economy was in the midst of a historic boom, one that was on the verge of kicking into overdrive. Today, the situation is the reverse: Recession looms, the Dow sags, the housing and credit markets buckle. The economy has elbowed aside Iraq as the central locus of voter anxiety. 

Hence the reason why the rise of Huckabee is causing so much consternation, even panic, among his fellow wannabe nominees. Though nobody sober believes that, even if he emerges triumphant in Iowa, Huckabee can win New Hampshire, his prospects in the next two contests (Michigan and South Carolina) are considerably better. Both are states whose industrial bases have been ravaged by foreign competition. Both have seen their property markets hammered by the credit crunch and the recent wave of foreclosures. And at least in South Carolina, the state that is often the sine qua non for securing the GOP nomination, the Evangelical vote is nearly as significant as it is in Iowa. If Huckabee wins there—and he currently leads—his momentum could prove unstoppable.

--Noam Scheiber