This quote from Mark DeMoss (via Andrew), who worked (largely unsuccessfully) on Romney’s evangelical outreach during the primaries, got me to thinking why the response to Palin has been as strong as it has been:
Too many evangelicals and religious conservative are too preoccupied with values and faith and pay no attention to competence. We don’t apply this approach to anything else in life, including choosing a pastor.” Imagine, he said, if a church was searching for a pastor and the leadership was brought a candidate with great values but little experience. “They’ve been a pastor for two years at a church with 150 people but he shares our values, so we hired him to be pastor of our 5,000 person church? It wouldn’t happen! We don’t say, ‘He shares our values, so let’s hire him.’ That’s absurd. Yet we apply that to choosing presidents. It blows my mind.
A key part of understanding the enthusiastic conservative response to Palin, particularly among evangelical Christian leaders, is remembering that this was not how the movement and evangelical leaders responded to Huckabee when he was running for President. Many movement activists and evangelical leaders insisted on being “pragmatic” and rallied rather half-heartedly around Romney on the dubious basis that he shared their values, but more important than this was the claim that he, unlike his rivals, was both competent and met all of the criteria for each major conservative bloc. Despite Huckabee’s manifestly greater popularity in many early primary contests, and despite his far better conservative, particularly social conservative, record and his more extensive executive experience, practically every pundit, activist and party official you could find was absolutely certain that Huckabee was beyond the pale and would cause the GOP to implode if nominated. Even though Huckabee was the stronger non-McCain candidate, and stopping McCain had been a top priority for all of these leaders, they opted for the safe and phony Romney.
In the wake of Huckabee’s second-place finish to McCain, whom most of the Romneyite Christians loathed, prominent Romney backers expressed regret for not having seized the opportunity by backing Huckabee–one of their own. The selection of Palin has provided an opportunity to make up to some extent for ignoring and even attacking Huckabee, which is one of the reasons why there has been such a powerful identification with her. Having rejected Huckabee in the strongest terms and declared him to be unacceptable as a VP selection, movement and evangelical leaders are now rallying to someone who is “one of us” after having contorted themselves with their strained rationalizations for supporting Romney. Having helped to sink a representative of one of the largest constituencies of the GOP, they must be relieved that they have a chance to undo what some have come to see as their colossal blunder. Had they responded in this way eight months ago after Huckabee’s victory in Iowa, they would not now need a Palin to offset McCain’s flaws and provide a reason for them to be excited about the ticket. The Palin enthusiasm is an expression of the desperation felt by those who are looking for a second chance.