If you believe, as Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee do, in carrying the big guns of religion and faith into the public square, you have to expect people will ask exactly what you're packing. As the two former governors run ahead of the Republican pack to grab Campaign 2008's first prize in Iowa next month, their religious beliefs and their fallout on the GOP are providing target practice in the blogosphere.
Now that Romney has put religion in play, Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake and George Packer at Interesting Times want to ask him about Mormonism and race. "Why did you never publicly question your church's exclusion of blacks from full membership?" Packer wonders. "The policy ended only in 1978, when Romney was thirty-one. Past candidates, including Bill Clinton, have had to explain their membership in discriminatory country clubs. What's Romney's reason for his long silence on the racist practices of his church?"
And then there's Mike Huckabee's question, quoted in the New York Times, about the Mormon belief that Jesus and Lucifer are spirit brothers, a query that Romney said was an "attack‚" on his faith.
Conservative bloggers don't see it that way. "Surely it isn't an 'attack' for Huckabee merely to have brought up one of the more unusual doctrines of the Mormon church," Rod Dreher writes at Beliefnet‚Äôs Crunchy Con. Adds Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic: "As long as we have a secular politics, this doesn't and shouldn't matter in a presidential election. For me, it doesn't. But here's the point: for those who believe no politics is meaningful without religion dictating its meaning and direction, i.e. today's Republican leadership, it's a legitimate question.
"So quit the whining, Mr Romney, and enjoy the bed you've made for yourself."
Huckabee shares that same bed, Tim Grieve points out at Salon's War Room. "If Mike Huckabee is going to say that his faith 'drives' his decisions, voters are entitled to know a little more about what that means."
After famously declaring in 2000 that Jesus was his favorite political philosopher, George W. Bush has delivered war, torture, neglect of the victims of Katrina and tax cuts for the rich. So this time around bloggers are wary of how Huckabee's biblical pronouncements — "You don't punish the child for the crime of the parents"; "You treat others as you wish to be treated" — might translate into action.
On the left there's wariness about the distance between Golden Rule creed and Huckabee deed. For example, Mark Kleiman at Same Facts declares that Huckabee's 1992 proposal to quarantine HIV-positive people puts him in the running with Rudy Giuliani for "the coveted 'Most Likely to Do Something Appallingly Inhumane to People Not Like Us' prize." He notes that there is only one other who has carried through on this "astonishingly un-American" proposal: Fidel Castro.
On the right, though, the wariness is that Huckabee's faith might actually lead him in dangerous (i.e., liberal) directions. Quoting a GOP consultant ("Is what we need a smallstate governor who doesn't believe in Darwin?") Lisa Schiffren at The Corner announces, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the time to ask that question is now."
And so the questions pour forth about Huckabee's perceived apostasy, or just plain nuttiness: not on Darwin (evolution not being a big Republican issue), but on immigration, foreign policy, big government nannyism, and taxes. Huckabee is "the ultimate liberal plant," Douglas MacKinnon concludes at Townhall.
Imagine: A month ago bloggers were wondering if social conservatives would abandon the Republican party next November if Rudy Giuliani, whom they judge too liberal, wins the nomination. Now some conservative bloggers are mulling over abandoning the Republican party next November if the surging Huckabee, a social conservative whom they judge too liberal, is the nominee.
Where does that leave the Republicans? Huckabee "doesn't have a prayer — or maybe that's all he has," Ross Douhat predicts at The Atlantic. "Except, of course, that none of his rivals can win either."