An evangelical cruise reveals a united Republican party, but excessive anti-government rhetoric obstructs its path to the White Houseby Adam Haslett / June 22, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
Mike Huckabee is eating a cheeseburger and fries on the Lido Deck of the Sapphire Princess, a luxury cruise ship bound from Seattle to Alaska across the rough waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound. A 40-knot wind blasting down from the north is causing this floating resort to roll to and fro, sending pallid-faced passengers back to their state rooms and depressing the sales of booze, on which the profits of the Princess rest. The ship is massive: one third the weight of the Empire State Building and as long as the Eiffel Tower is high.
Of its 2,600 passengers, 250 have signed up for the Freedom Cruise, a Christian gospel music extravaganza of which Huckabee, the Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, is the star guest and attraction. Until mid-May, Huckabee, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican candidacy in 2008, was among the front-runners for the party’s presidential nomination in 2012. But then he told the audience of his eponymous Fox News show that: “For me, to do it apart from an inner confidence that I was undertaking it with God’s full blessing is simply unthinkable. All the signs said ‘go,’ but my heart said ‘no.’”
His decision not to run says a lot about the quarrelsome state of the Republican party as it prepares to take on Barack Obama in next year’s presidential election. I have joined the Freedom Cruise in the hope of learning where things stand on the US right and whether they can assemble the coalition needed to defeat the man whose policies they have come to despise.
The route taken by the cruise liner Sapphire Princess, 5th-12th June
Huckabee, who represents a populist strain of southernevangelical politics in the US, has never been palatable to the Washington elite of the party. They fault him for breaking the golden rule of Republicanism by raising taxes as governor of Arkansas, and see him as too extreme on social issues to be acceptable to a national audience. Educated at a Baptist college and seminary, Huckabee began his professional life as a pastor, where he quickly began to use radio and television to spread his message beyond the church walls. His political career began in earnest in the early 1990s, and in 1993 he was elected lieutenant governor of Arkansas. He was elevated to governor in 1996 when the sitting governor, Jim Guy Tucker, resigned over fraud charges, and he later won two full terms. Huckabee first came to national prominence in the early 2000s for an anti-obesity campaign in which he personally lost 110 pounds and ran a marathon. (He published a bestselling diet book, Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork, in 2005).