Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee – the only presidential candidate in memory to author a book of spiritually-appropriate tips for shedding extra pounds — lost the race for the Republican presidential nomination before it started.
Crushing defeats tonight in Texas and Ohio — two states where the preacher-turned-politician should have been a contender — just put the period on the sentence that was written the day he launched his campaign: “Mike Huckabee is never going to lead a national Republican ticket.”
Tuesday was John McCain’s night, with easy wins for the Arizona senator in Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont. And the nomination is now his.
It was never going to be Huckabee’s.
Republicans don’t nominate former governors of small, slightly-Democratic states for president, and they certainly don’t nominate bass-playing, varmint-eatin’ populists who point out the failings of “CEO presidents” and seem actually to care more about the party faithful than its Wall Street funders.
While the Democrats have had some recent success with outsiders from the state capitals – Jimmy Carter in 1976, Bill Clinton in 1992 – the last time the Grand Old Party turned to the governor from a state that might be considered off the beaten path was in 1936. They learned a bitter lesson that year, when Kansas Governor Alf Landon led an “as Maine goes, so goes Vermont” campaign that could not even secure the paltry Electoral College delegation of his home state.
So Huckabee did never fit the profile. And then he went and scared the bejeezus out of the party elites by talking about actually delivering on the GOP’s long-deferred promises to its evangelically-inclined base. On economics, the former governor owed more to Pat Buchanan’s pitchfork populism than the Bush family’s oil-profits-uber-alles “values.” And when it came to the bread-and-butter of the “values voter” message, Huckabee horrified Republican leaders by suggesting that the party really should get down to the business of banning abortions, reversing gay rights and amending the Constitution to permit something a might more theocratic.
Yet, Huckabee recognized that there were millions of Republican voters who wanted to “go there.” And he did, winning not just the Iowa caucuses but key southern and border-state primaries. What the Dallas Morning News described – in a Texas-weird endorsement of the former governor on Sunday – as “Mr. Huckabee’s sunny-side-up brand of conservatism” proved to be attractive enough to get the out-of-work politician what he needed.