Unlike many of the commentators over the last few days, I don’t think Huckabee had a real shot at the nomination — you need a broader demographic base to win it. Whether you agree with me or with those commentators will determine whether you think, as Chris Cillizza does, that social conservatives lost big when Huckabee decided not to run.
Huckabee was, without question, the socially conservative candidate with the best chance of winding up as the party’s nominee. Although Palin and Bachmann — not to mention pizza magnate Herman Cain — would be attractive to social conservatives, each of them has major electability issues. That means that social conservatives could be faced with voting their conscience or supporting someone they think can win — not an ideal set of choices.
Another way of looking at it is that candidates who could actually win the nomination, and maybe even the presidential election, will now have a greater incentive to compete for the socially-conservative voters that Huckabee’s absence from the race will free up. The social conservatives who supported George W. Bush rather than Gary Bauer or Alan Keyes in 2000 — that is to say, most social conservatives — didn’t see themselves as voting against their consciences; and those who support Romney or Pawlenty this time — there will, again, be many — aren’t going to see that conflict either.