In 1988, TV preacher Pat Robertson launched a Republican presidential campaign predicated on a vaguely theocratic, right-wing platform. But Robertson didn't just seek votes on the campaign trail; he collected names and addresses. Indeed, before he even launched his campaign, he told his supporters that he'd only run if 3 million people signed on as campaign volunteers.
This, of course, created quite a voter list of conservative evangelicals, which Robertson used to create the Christian Coalition a year after ending his presidential bid.
Robertson has since become a laughingstock, and the Christian Coalition barely exists, but by using his campaign lists, Robertson was able to create a political powerhouse.
I get the sense Mike Huckabee has the same idea.
Mike Huckabee will hold a conference call with supporters tomorrow night to discuss his plans for a new political entity and to assure them that he plans to keep an active presence in this campaign and in future cycles, according to an aide ...
"You will hear insider information about Huckabee's scrappy campaign that surprised the nation and stunned Republican Party elites," promises [Christian publisher and Huckabee backer Steve Strang] in an email to Huckabee backers. "The 'preacher who dared to be president' will also discuss his plans for the future and reflect on the changing state of the conservative movement."
Huckabee won't formally launch his new political organization until next week -- think tax day, April 15th -- but he'll use the call to begin to develop what his supporters hope ultimately becomes a high-profile role in Christian conservative politics that will enable him to run again for president.
Jerry Falwell died last year; James Dobson isn't as active as he was; and Robertson is generally perceived as a clown, leaving a vacancy. There's no reason to think Huckabee can't fill it.
There's been quite a bit of talk in recent months about whether the religious right, as a movement, is dead. I can see the argument from both sides, but the bottom line is that the rank-and-file activists who make up the religious right -- the ones who watch "The 700 Club," listen to Dobson's radio show, etc. -- haven't gone away. The Christian Coalition has faded, and some of the lesser-known groups haven't grown in stature or size, but the group's members are still out there, believing in a conservative theocratic agenda.
Huckabee, who probably recognizes this, may intend to stand in the gap (so to speak) and be a Pat Robertson for a new generation.