Several weeks ago, these forces decided to rally ’round Romney as their alternative. They picked the wrong horse. Had the movement conservatives gone with Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson, they would have had a better chance of derailing McCain. ~Jonathan Last
This is mostly right, and since the flaws of the Thompson campaign are legion and well-known it seems clear that rallying around Huckabee would have been the only conceivable way to halt McCain. The problem, of course, is that the anti-Huckabee campaign made that impossible and it wasted precious time that could have been used in building up a specifically anti-McCain candidate. As I have said before:
For those now fretting about the Return of McCain, I would note simply that it was the conservative establishment that managed to subvert Huckabee with their relentless campaign against him over the past six to eight weeks, and and it was the vanity campaign of Fred Thompson, which must now come to an end, that paved the way for McCain to win in South Carolina and so propel him towards the nomination.
Many leading figures in the movement have declared themselves opposed to two candidacies, and these are the two that will probably win most of the delegates on Tuesday. The one these people have backed–in some part because of his alleged “viability”–is failing. The Huckabacklash effectively made it impossible to stop McCain, since the anti-Huckabee forces had already ruled him out as an instrument of their anti-McCainism. Since many anti-McCain conservatives evidently loathe Huckabee even more, they will not be too upset by this. Nonetheless, when you hear a great wailing and gnashing of teeth about McCain from these mainstream figures who mocked, belittled and rejected Huckabee (sometimes for legitimate reasons, sometimes out of dread that actual Southerners and evangelicals rising to positions of importance), bear in mind that they had a chance to throw their weight behind Huckabee a month ago. They chose a different path, and now they–and we–are reaping the fruits of that decision.