Given the wild gyrations of the Republican presidential nominating race, I write these words knowing that a future meal of them remains possible, but nonetheless: Mike Huckabee is toast.
A fresh-face misread as a genial, slightly moderate type by national media in 2008, Huckabee won the Iowa caucus and several primary states while finishing second to John McCain. He was something of a darling on national TV shows, including “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show.” The exposure helped launch a lucrative media career on radio, Fox News and the public speaking circuit (primarily to anti-abortion groups) that has made him a multimillionaire.
With a Fox News base and generally favorable media reviews from 2008, Huckabee entered the 2016 race with some reason to think he could be among the pack of early frontrunners. But, in Real Clear Politics’ running average of polling, Huckabee is mired in ninth place, with 3.2 percent support. At the top, with a cumulative 52 percentage points of support, are outsidersDonald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina.
The evangelical base that propelled Huckabee in 2008 has more choices this year. Huckabee got 28 percent of the straw vote at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters Summit in 2007, good for second place. This year, he got only 14 percent, behind Sen. Ted Cruz and Carson.
The preference for fresh faces and outsiders is clearly bad news for Mike Huckabee and, on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton.
Huckabee and others hope the Trump balloon will pop. The mad-as-hell 25 percent that support him have to go somewhere. Huckabee has made his bid by increasingly shrill appeals to homophobia and Islamophobia. His problem is that most Republicans are flying the same banners. But Huckabee has seemed particularly desperate. His staff physically elbowed Cruz out of the picture at a Huckabee-staged rally for Kim Davis, the law-defying Kentucky county clerk. Huckabee has been stridently anti-gay since his 1992 race for U.S. Senate (when he talked of quarantines for AIDS sufferers). But he hit a new low by going on the offensive against Frito-Lay for its rainbow-colored Doritos. The company is supporting the noble “It Gets Better” campaign aimed at helping young people marginalized by their sexuality. It’s a mortal sin to Huckabee because “It Gets Better” is the brainchild of Dan Savage, a nationally syndicated sex columnist who’s shot acid barbs at Huckabee.
Huckabee has also taken to telling tall tales. He told the Values Voters that his government corruption hotline brought down a gaggle of Clintonite legislators. His hotline never produced a viable tip. The legislators actually were caught in a scam exposed by the Arkansas Times and prosecuted by Democratic Prosecutor Larry Jegley and Clinton’s U.S. attorney appointee, Paula Casey.
As desperate and forlorn as Huckabee’s campaign appears – see a recent appearance with has-been Chuck Norris – he still enjoys support from Republicans in Arkansas. In a recent release, Huckabee announced that every major officeholder backed him. Notable exceptions were three direct, unvarnished and strong politicians – Auditor Andrea Lea, Sen. Tom Cotton and Rep.Steve Womack. For others less direct, it’s easy to buy time in an uncertain race by declaring support for an ex-native son. Huckabee listed only 19 of 86 Republican legislators on his team. They are generally hardcore tea partyers outside the leadership circle or share Huckabee’s pet prejudices (see state Sen. Jason Rapert).
Hutchinson did no favor for Huckabee in moving up our presidential primary to March 1, with other Southern states. Even if Huckabee does win the state (and recent polling showed Trump running well here, too) it won’t count for much, because delegates in the early primary states will be awarded in proportion to vote. Later in the primary season, when Arkansas has generally voted, a 25 percent vote, if the highest percentage, would be good enough to take ALL delegates to the national nominating convention. As of today, that could make a difference.