Although you could pinpoint the turning point of Mike Huckabee's candidacy at the 2007 Values Voters Summit in October, where he won the straw poll, I see it a bit earlier, back in the summer, when he was endorsed by evangelical publisher Stephen Strang and New Man magazine.
There's a new crew of evangelical vote mobilizers, and their names aren't Dobson or Robertson. Sixty percent of last night's Republican caucus-goers were evangelical, and 80% of Huckabee's supporters described themselves as evangelical. And he pulled it off without some of the biggest public faces of the Christian right.
At the Values Voters Summit, despite wide support by the rank and file, the summit's organizers -- notably Focus on the Family's James Dobson, Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, American Values' Gary Bauer, and High Impact Leadership Coalition's Harry Jackson -- resisted getting behind Huckabee. Of the organizers of the Values Voters Summit -- billed as the most important political gathering of the year for Christian conservatives -- only one, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association, endorsed him. His grassroots supporters at the 2007 summit were mystified and downright angry that Dobson et al. were not getting behind him, too.
Rumors abounded, and sources told me, that this crew was leaning toward Fred Thompson, and in their pipe dreams, possibly Duncan Hunter. But apparently they knew that supporting a cadaver or an asterisk wasn't going to be the miracle they needed and they never went public. Nonetheless, they continued to shun Huckabee; their reasons included electability, and how the anti-tax and anti-immigrant constituencies revile him.
For months, the press held its breath for a Dobson endorsement, and the flimsiest of rumors could be transformed into news: Dobson will endorse, Dobson will ride a bus around Iowa for him, Dobson has finally given in. All these rumors, which careened around the blogosphere from time to time, turned out to be false, all "ferociously" denied by Dobson himself.
And now Dobson has been rendered irrelevant. Huckabee pulled it off without him, by putting together a diverse crew of old and new leaders. For the blast from the past, he leaned on Tim LaHaye and his truth is stranger than fiction love of Armageddon; for the Christian right standard-bearer, Wildmon; for the charismatics he turned to Strang, Kenneth Copeland, John Hagee, Keith Butler, and many others; for the homeschoolers, Michael Farris; for the anti-feminists, Beverly LaHaye of Concerned Women for America; and for the bible-thumping martial artists, of course, Chuck Norris.
For anyone who wrote the evangelical right's obituary last fall, Huckabee's win in Iowa -- even if it doesn't translate into the nomination -- shows just how wrong they were. There are certain cults of personality in the movement, made legendary by excessive media attention. Just because they weren't organized and mobilized for any single candidate doesn't mean there isn't a thriving movement, determined to restore America, its government, and its culture to "biblical values." Just because Dobson missed the boat with Huckabee doesn't mean there's no one else on board, or that there aren't several captains and crews. Never say I didn't warn you.