The Mike Huckabee and Chuck Norris event provided a nice close to a New Year’s Day throughout which, in the words of one of my friends, we have been essentially “mainlining politics.” Although Huckabee said that about 2,000 folks were present at the event, probably only about 1,250 were there besides the throng of national and international press. Still, it was an impressive turnout — heavily young and predominantly male — for a New Year’s Night, competing with some good college football. And, the crowd was perhaps the most genuinely enthusiastic I’ve witnessed here.
Read on the jump for a contrast in the styles of the Iowa front-runners.
The event was held at the Val Air Ballroom, the site of the infamous 2004 Howard Dean “Scream.” That venue, built in 1939, is a place where all the big names played as they traveled the Midwest. And, just as this building was in its prime two generations ago, tonight’s event felt more like a political event from the South of the late 1960s. Specifically, the rhetoric of the two stars — Huck and Chuck (particularly nervous in his speech) —sounded more than a little like the populism of Governor George C. Wallace. It lacked any of the explicit racial elements that Wallace’s speeches of that time would have included, but there were still attacks on “Arab sheiks” who fail to pay taxes on the luxury items that they buy in the U.S. and a hope that the country would be able to tell Arabs, “We don’t need your oil any more than we need your sand.”
The “them” in this “us versus them” politics is different from the 1960s, but it is still emotion-laden rhetoric. As with Edwards earlier in the day, sharp populism was at the core of Huckabee’s message and included a closing statement to the crowd that “you are the ruling class” that could send a message to Washington elites. Norris also took a swipe at the elite media for typically identifying Huckabee as a “former Baptist minister.” These are all updated versions of some of Wallace’s most effective rhetorical tactics.
Like the southern political rallies of the past, there was a band to entertain the crowd. Huckabee played bass and brought MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough to the stage to play guitar on “Sweet Home Alabama.” (Governor Wallace’s ghost was everywhere!)
There simply could not have been a sharper contrast between this event and Governor Romney’s house party earlier in the day. Everything is artificial and carefully scripted in Romney’s political events; in short, they are representative of 21st century politics where no risks are taken and, unfortunately, people often feel disconnected from politics.
In contrast, Huckabee’s political events are unpredictable and dynamic. They are real and voters respond to what feels genuine, particularly compared to what they’ve received from other candidates of both parties. And, just as the way they do politics are night and day, these two candidates who are headed to a close finish here are fundamentally different creatures and drive each other crazy.
The blue-blooded Romney provokes the class resentment of the boy from Hope, Arkansas. The uncouth Huckabee’s success is inexplicable to the multimillionaire. These two candidates — emblematic of the two major parts of the Reagan Republican coalition —simply do not understand each other. 2008 will be a year when their party determines its path for the next generation.
P.S. This southern boy is now officially colder than he’s ever been in his life. We’re moving below zero tonight for the low.