Recent political history has it that the Democratic Party tends to “fall in love” with its presidential nominees, while the Republican Party tends to “fall in line” behind the presumptive leader of the Party as its presidential nominee.
Falling in love with its presidential nominees means that the Democratic Party usually nominates candidates who not only are charismatic, but also are the champions of the issues that the liberal base of the Democratic Party gets excited about. As for the Republican Party, falling in line means that it usually nominates presidential candidates who are the de facto heir apparent to lead the Party – such as a sitting Republican Vice-President, or the individual who was the runner-up during the previous Republican presidential nomination contest.
According to recent polls, the 2016 presidential election is likely to belie the above-mentioned aphorism as the Democratic Party seems to be poised to fall in line and nominate the runner-up of the last contested democratic presidential primaries, Secretary Hillary Clinton; while the Republican Party, with no heir apparent, is taking a close look at and seeking to fall in love with any of the 14 individuals who have so far officially declared their intention to be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee. Among those 14 declared candidates is the 44th Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee.
On May 5, 2015, Huckabee officially entered the race. During his first attempt at clinching the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 in which he made a surprisingly strong showing on a shoestring campaign, Huckabee garnered enough delegates to come in second to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who eventually became the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. It is very plausible that in following its tradition of falling in line behind the runner-up of its previous presidential nomination contest, the Republican Party might have eventually made Huckabee its 2012 presidential nominee. However, Huckabee decided against running for President in 2012 to continue to enjoy his lucrative stint as a Fox News TV host and as a Radio personality. Huckabee then unabashedly fell in line behind Mitt Romney, who had come in third place in the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
By sitting out the 2012 Republican presidential nomination contest, Huckabee might have surmised that it would have been strategically problematic to waste the political capital he had accumulated in 2008 on a hopeless attempt to unseat a sitting president running for re-election. Huckabee’s decision to sit out the 2012 Republican presidential nomination might have been based on historical trends. It is not only difficult to unseat a sitting president running for re-election, but it is even more so to unseat a seating president who runs for re-election in the midst of a military campaign. But Huckabee might have missed a chance – maybe the last one he would ever have – to become the Republican presidential nominee.
It would have been easier for Huckabee to parlay the political assets and goodwill that he had accumulated in the 2008 Republican presidential nomination contest into a probable victory in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries. By skipping the 2012 presidential cycle, Huckabee forfeited the leadership mantle he might have otherwise had as a potential 2012 Republican presidential nominee. Reclaiming that leadership mantle would be very hard for Huckabee to do for at least three main reasons:
• Eight years constitute an eternity in politics and it is very difficult to have a staying power while seeking to become the standard bearer of a political party in a very contested primary.
• Eight years are more than enough to see an influx of new voters who may feel more connected to other candidates than to the one who came close to being the nominee 8 years ago.
• Voters and the media tend to often get more excited by newer candidates and consider those who have been in the political limelight for a while as “old news.”
In 2012, it would have been easier for Huckabee to win the Republican presidential nomination and harder to win the presidency against a sitting president. And it seems that it would be harder for Huckabee to win the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and easier to win the presidency when no incumbent is on the ballot. Thus, the timing of Huckabee’s decision to run for President in 2016 might be off as he would have a harder time convincing the Republican primary voters than he would have had, if he had run for president in 2012.
HUCKABEE 2.0: A TOUGHER SALE
In officially announcing his 2016 presidential bid, Huckabee said, “I am running for president because I know that there is a difference between making a speech and making government accountable to the people who pay for it…”
Before prescribing the remedies that he would seek to enforce if he became President, Huckabee went through a litany of ills that he thinks are plaguing America. He thus summarized his plan of action: “This country has to do three things to stay free: Feed itself, Fuel itself, and Fight for itself.”
For Huckabee to be able to implement his plan of action as President, it seems he would have to first weather a very tough Republican presidential primary. Per Realclearpolitics.com, which averages the major polling results, Huckabee is pegged (as of June 29) at 5th place with an average of 8.4% support among Republican primary voters. He trails former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (13.8 %), current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (11.4%), U.S. Senator from Florida Marco Rubio (11%), and retired Neurosurgeon Ben Carson (9.4%).
What catapulted Huckabee’s 2008 candidacy to a second-place finish in delegate count was his stunning win in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses. As things stand, Huckabee is at risk of not pulling off the victory he had pulled off with his 2008 win in the Iowa Caucuses. The Selzer Score, which not only aggregates the major polling results in Iowa but also collects the strength of Iowa Republican primary voters’ preferences for the various candidates, shows Huckabee placed fourth (59.5%) behind Bush (99.5%), Rubio (85%), and Walker (69.5%). Besides, Huckabee comes in 5th place (9%) on the list of candidates that Iowa voters consider to be their first choice. He trails Bush (22%), Walker (17%), Rubio (14%), and Carson (11%).
Even on the list of candidates that Iowa Republican primary voters consider to be their second choice, Huckabee doesn’t fare any better. Though he is ranked third behind Rubio (20%) and Bush (18%), his support remains at 9%. This is a far cry from the 34.4% of the votes he received to win the 2008 Republican Iowa Caucuses.
If after easily winning the 2008 Republican Iowa caucuses, Huckabee still failed to clinch the Republican presidential nomination, one could imagine how harder it would be for him to be the 2016 Republican presidential nominee if he can’t at least replicate his 2008 winning performance in the Iowa caucuses. Reporters, pundits, and other political handicappers are likely to declare Huckabee’s candidacy a failure if he gets anything less than a win in the 2016 Iowa caucuses. This media assessment would likely lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy for Huckabee’s campaign as donors, volunteers, and other staffers would likely dwindle.
The fact that Huckabee is having a harder time breaking through the crowded Republican presidential nomination contest suggests he may have lost a golden opportunity to seize his moment in 2012. His window of opportunity seems to have been closed since then as newer candidates, newer issues, and a newer political environment may prompt Republican primary voters to look for a different candidate that could not only win the primaries but also be in a better position to win the general elections. Many of those voters who supported Huckabee in 2008 are likely to take a close look at other candidates for a variety of reasons:
• Huckabee had failed to win the Republican nomination in 2008 and is thus not going to be seen as a winner.
• Huckabee chose to sit out the 2012 presidential cycle and thus left many of his 2008 supporters without a champion. Now, those supporters might have moved on to some other candidate.
• The 2016 Republican nomination contest is filled with much better candidates than the Republican Party has had in many years, thus giving voters many options. In sum, Huckabee’s time may have come and long gone.
Huckabee’s 2016 Campaign slogan is “From Hope to higher ground.” As of now, extraordinary things would have to happen for Huckabee to avoid going from Hope (his hometown) to … lower (political) ground.