The Republican presidential field narrowed in a substantial way with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and real estate magnate Donald Trump both announcing that they won’t seek the GOP nomination in 2012. Both of the prospective candidates stand for important factors which the GOP faithful will use to decide who they will send to oppose Barack Obama in the next election: principle and flash.
Huckabee has long been the favorite among voters who believe that being socially conservative is more important than anything else. He has raised his profile as a contributor to Fox News and the more conservatives got to know Mike Huckabee, the more they found to like. He’s an engaging personality and he doesn’t shy away from drawing clear distinctions between right and wrong, eschewing the pragmatic politician’s instinct to hedge when defining their positions.
The left abhors moral clarity of course, so they routinely dismissed Huckabee as a “fringe” candidate. He was too evangelical, it was said, and he couldn’t raise enough money to be a serious contender.
Whenever the left and its allies in the mainstream media go out of their way to target a candidate in this way, one must conclude that there is something about that candidate that frightens them – a lot. To sum up Saul Alinsky: there’s no point in belittling and marginalizing someone who doesn’t represent a threat. Or, on the flip side, you only expend your time and resources to belittle and marginalize those who can do serious damage to your cause.
Mike Huckabee was the one potential Republican candidate who consistently outpolled Barack Obama in head to head competitions. He is living, breathing proof of the fact that the idea that Americans abhor the prospect of electing a religiously devout president continues to be so much rubbish. Huckabee’s religious base was an enormous advantage, and Obama would have had a hard time overcoming that advantage had Huckabee chosen to run.
In contrast, it’s not at all clear that Donald Trump could have ever made a serious run for the presidency, even if he had been able to leverage Obama’s birth certificate into a long-term campaign strategy. As it stands, that particular question is as moot as ever. Trump forced the president to confront the issue – which was a great thing – but the president effectively danced around the problem, either by exercising exceptional guile or by practicing long overdue openness when it come to his place of birth.
However one feels about Barack Obama’s eligibility to be elected president in 2008, that issue will not materially affect the election in 2012. Without that issue to focus upon, Donald Trump didn’t have much to set him apart from the rest of the candidates seeking the Republican nomination. Trump bet the farm – so to speak – on a specific issue that would ensure plenty of headlines. In personal terms, he lost, but in national terms, “the Donald” did the nation a singular service. By forcing the administration to address the issue, Trump effectively forced the question of Obama’s birth place off of the table. Every prospective Republican candidate thus has to deal with the president’s policies, not his past.
So who benefits the most from Huckabee’s and Trump’s withdrawals? At first blush, the answer might have been “Newt Gingrich,” except that the ex-speaker shot himself in the foot by coming out in favor of the individual mandate for health insurance. Gingrich backtracked on that issue later, saying that he opposes the Obamacare mandate in every instance, but the damage has been done. Ever the intellectual, Gingrich spent too much time addressing the ideal solution and not enough time framing the practical problem.
Michele Bachmann, along with Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum are the candidates most likely to benefit from an early Huckabee exit, since they are the candidates most in line with the socially conservative viewpoint. We shall see how that plays out. In the short term, the withdrawal of Huckabee and Trump hasn’t likely made much of a difference at all. In the long term, the loss of moral certainty and multi-billion dollar funding that the two represented are sure to be matters of vital importance indeed.