There was a time when I thought that Mike Huckabee had a chance to win over enough “somewhat conservative” voters that, when added to his pre-existing base among conservative white evangelicals, would give him a good chance to win the 2016 Republican nomination. I don’t think that chance exists anymore (if it ever did). He hasn’t done any of the maneuvering he would need to do in order to expand his base of support. Thirteen months is not a long time and he has shown no inclination to make the moves he would need to make in order to expand his base. If he does run, I don’t see how his ceiling is higher than a strong second.
But hey, a strong second place finish would refresh his brand and strengthen his position as a powerbroker within the right. Not so fast. This isn’t going to be like 2008. Huckabee is probably the most likeable candidate in the field, but he isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this time. He enters with higher name recognition, but also with a target on his back.
No, I don’t mean from the Republican establishment. I mean from the candidates who will look to run as populist alternatives to the Republican establishment candidates. I don’t see any path for a Republican populist that does not include a very large share of the conservative evangelical vote. If Huckabee dominates among conservative evangelicals, there is no room for a Ted Cruz or a Rick Santorum and much less room for Rand Paul to improve on his father’s 2012 performance. In order for these alternative candidates to have a chance, they would have to break apart Huckabee as a viable candidate (Rand Paul has already started). If they can’t do that, they don’t have anything. Those are the incentives.
Huckabee can probably gain stature if he ends up the last man standing against the Republican establishment. But to get that far, he will have to survive being gang-tackled by the other anti-establishment candidates.