Mike Huckabee

Between Trump and Carson, There's Not Much Room for Huckabee

And if they stumble, it's Cruz who's best positioned to gain.

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Huckabee in happier days.
Joel/Flickr

When Mike Huckabee showed up at Kim Davis' release from jail yesterday, the former Arkansas governor wanted the political spotlight for himself. So when rival presidential candidate Ted Cruz arrived at the scene and "a throng of journalists beckoned him toward their microphones," The New York Times reports, "an aide to Mr. Huckabee blocked the path."

I disapprove, but I understand. Hardly anyone expected Huckabee to be a major contender this time around, but he's had trouble even establishing himself as the voice of the tribes he was aiming to represent. There are two big reasons for that. One is named Donald Trump, and the other is named Ben Carson.

Trump, a twice-divorced New York celebrity, may not be a natural vessel for the megachurch crowd, but he's stolen Huckabee's thunder in a different way. It may be hard to remember this now, but back in April Huckabee was going to be the Republican Who Wouldn't Let Those Guys Take Your Social Security Check. His announcement speech stressed economic issues, aiming for blue-collar Republicans who were socially conservative but unimpressed with the Club for Growth's ideas about trade and entitlements. But that's the space Trump is occupying, more or less.

I say more or less because Trump appeals to a very different sort of social conservatism than Huckabee does—one built around resentment of outsiders, not Christian morality. Trump did lead among evangelical voters for a few weeks this summer, so clearly a lot of them like him, but he doesn't have a ton to say about abortion or gay marriage, and his persona probably turns off a lot of traditional Christians. But Ben Carson, as mild-mannered as Trump is self-aggrandizing, has been hoovering up those voters, surging to second place in the national polls and by one survey tying for the lead in Iowa. His campaign is probably even less sustainable in the long run than Trump's is, but for now he's soaking up SoCon support.

And the man in the best position to absorb Carson's voters when he fades—and for that matter Trump's voters, if he ever fades too? It's Ted Cruz. No wonder a Huckabee worker would want to block Cruz's path, even if it means entering a place as dangerous as the space separating a senator from a microphone.