Let’s assume for a moment that Huckabee finishes strongly in South Carolina, thwarts the Thompson comeback and overtakes McCain. Among February 5 states with polls available, he’s still running in first in Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia and might still win in these states regardless of what happens on Saturday, and a South Carolina win might propel him on to a surprise success in Florida. Assuming that he can then wend his way to the nomination, which is by no means certain, and perhaps hones a winning Pinkertonian-style message, is it so far-fetched to think that he would be competitive in the general election? I know that he does poorly among Catholic voters, and he seems to be stuck in the evangelical ghetto that is partly of his own making (and partly the media’s fabrication), but in head-to-head polls among likely voters he tends to do much better against Clinton and even beats her in a couple of match-ups. Given that Clinton is a machine when it comes to reciting policy wonk details and Huckabee would prefer to tell an amusing story than give a straight answer, this may all be very misleading, but there is nothing obviously implausible about a Huckabee nomination or even a Huckabee victory…except that every conservative activist and pundit (except for Jim Pinkerton) wants him to go jump in a lake.
P.S. There is the additional problem that Huckabee has lately started to take on the traits of a factional leader rather than someone who is trying to lead the entire party. He is vying for influence, rather than trying to consolidate all factions behind him. Am I the only one who is reminded of the desultory Tory leadership battles of the pre-Cameron years? It seems as if we are still in our William Hague phase–who will be the GOP’s ineffectual Iain Duncan-Smith?
Update: This Pew poll shows that Huckabee runs a decent second to McCain in all of the states from Jan. 29 onwards (see page 8). If McCain falters and Giuliani does not recover, doesn’t he benefit the most among voters?
Ironically, given the intense dissatisfaction of conservative elites with Huckabee, the same poll shows that GOP voters place Huckabee furthest to the right of any of the leading candidates, and they place him just to the left of Bush, while all of the others are perceived as being to Bush’s left (which may be true in a couple of cases). Among all voters, Huckabee is seen as being furthest to the right. Only 34% of GOP voters see Huckabee as moderate or liberal, yet this is the overwhelming consensus of conservative elites. Arguably, this is because they are better-informed, but it also means they are entirely out of step with a majority of Republicans.