Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, writing at The New Republic about Mike Huckabee's announcement that he will be entering the 2016 presidential race:
But the culture wars are over, and things did not shake out in evangelicals’ favor. As Professor Andrew Hartman writes in his new history of the culture wars, A War for the Soul of America, “Those who identified with the normative Americanism of the 1950s fought for its survival. But by the twenty-first century, memories of this lost world have faded. A growing majority of Americans now accept and even embrace what at the time seemed like a new nation. In this light, the late-twentieth-century culture wars should be understood as an adjustment period.” The last two decades of the twentieth century and the first few years of the twenty-first were, it now seems, a denial-like phase of adjustment. But that moment has passed. Evangelicals are now well aware of the situation America is in both legally and culturally, and are seeking only to be left to their own individual practices in the spaces they still hold.
It is to this constituency Huckabee will now turn for support. The trouble is that likely every single one of the GOP primary candidates will expound at length about the importance of religious liberty. And, unlike Huckabee, several of his competitors have actually spent the last several years enmeshed in governance, rather than running a Fox News talk show that’s the equivalent of a cross between “Howdy Doody” and “The 700 Club.” With the culture wars in the past, the inspirational evangelical attitude of the Bush era mostly faded, and no end to his recurring money troubles in sight, it’s unclear how Huckabee will distinguish himself as a top candidate even to the most ardent evangelical voters, or whether it will seem worthwhile to wealthy ministries to jeopardize their tax-exempt status to fund a candidate whose position on religious liberty matches that of every other Republican hopeful.
Evidently aware that he can no longer count on fundraising in sanctuaries, Huckabee has turned to shilling for bullshit diabetes cures on internet infomercials to bring in cash. This, too, is an old trick in the celebrity evangelical book: After notorious televangelist Jim Bakker was jailed for multiple counts of fraud, he returned to the airwives to hawk survivalist food kits for the apocalyptically minded. Celebrity evangelicals have always been good at making money, in part because of what they're willing to do for it. But the age of their outsized political influence seems to have ended.
The fact is that Huckabee is a candidate who has outlived his time. The days of just kings and their trusty prophets have passed, as has the era of TV pastors achieving influence beyond the (admittedly daunting) reach of the Oprah Winfrey Network. Evangelicals are frightened and angry and looking for the sort of president who will protect them from the onslaught of the world around them, which is still rapidly changing. Huckabee, with his folksy charm and church basement coffee-talk demeanor, was their preferred protector in 2008, and perhaps always will be. But he won't get anywhere near the White House.
I agree with Bruenig that Huckabee does not stand a chance in hell of winning the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. Candidates like him enter the race to keep their names in the news, and I suspect Huckabee's main goal here is to boost sales of his shitty books and maintain his viability as an actor on the right-wing TV, talk radio, and think tank circuit.
I do not share Bruenig's confidence, however, that "the culture wars are over." It is true that significant strides have been made on specific fronts (especially LGBT rights), and the demographics of the nation are beginning to shift social and political power away from its traditional white male holders. However, the ongoing resistance to abortion rights and gender, racial, and economic equality, as well as the ever-more-dire rhetoric issuing from the cultural Right makes me think it still has a fair amount of fight left in it. Furthermore, while I don't want to minimize or understate the importance of the gains made by social progressives, I suspect they probably represent the low-hanging fruit.
To put it another way, I tend to think the culture wars will get worse before they get better, and we may be in something of a calm before the storm. Huckabee's candidacy and his increasingly apocalyptic vision for the country's future are indicators of that trend.By Pete Brown