True to his word, Mike Huckabee abandoned the race for the GOP nomination after not placing in the top 3 in Iowa. In the real world, he had zero chance of being the nominee and probably entered negative chance territory as more and newer candidates emerged. One would have to question where his supporters will now go, but considering his low finish in Iowa- a state that should have favored him the most- it is doubtful he had many supporters and if so, they make little difference.
Huckabee has been critical of Cruz at times and his recent appearance (along with Santorum at the Trump event) may be a sign that he supports neither Cruz nor Rubio and may support Trump. Unlike Santorum who was careful not to be filmed in front of a Trump sign, Huckabee had no such compunctions.
And it would make sense since Huckabee, although clearly more evangelical than Trump, has a record of not being fiscally conservative while Governor or Arkansas. Under other circumstances, one could make an argument that Huckabee could potentially help Trump with social conservatives. However, it is all a moot point given the dearth of actual Huckabee supporters. Further, his folksy nature just does not play well in this the year of the angry voter. Then again, Huckabee can play nice cop while Trump plays bad cop. And the way he sucked up to Trump, all indications are that is where his loyalties will lie. The good news: his loyalties are few and far between.
Then there was Rick Santorum who obviously misread the tea leaves from 2012. Being the last man standing against Romney was erroneously interpreted as the “heir apparent.” Of course, he did not account for the fact that he was a weak candidate in a weak field of candidates. The fact he won 10 states gave Santorum a false sense of hope or importance.
Further, although no one doubts his socially conservative credentials, Santorum tried to reconfigure himself into a populist working class hero. Much of his economic plan was designed to position himself as such. Unlike Huckabee, he did come out and endorse Marco Rubio. Again, this writer doubts it would make much of a difference given the lack of Santorum supporters as evidenced by his performance in Iowa.
As for Rand Paul, his story reminds me of that character in “On the Waterfront” who said: “I coulda been a contender…” But, some of the handwriting was on the wall back in September 2015 when members of his staff were defecting, some to the Cruz camp. This was coupled with poor fundraising. Remember the Democratic candidate Larry Lessig? Of course you don’t because he was a contender for three months to prove a point about campaign finance. Unfortunately for Paul, Lessig raised more money in that time period.
There was also the Trump factor and The Donald sucking all the air out of the room, especially after the August debate. Paul got cut out of that media maelstrom as a compliant media fought over the latest Trump interview and Trump was more than willing to oblige. It is sad when a presidential candidate has to resort to social media posts and videos to generate interest as Paul did.
But probably the biggest thing that damaged Paul’s chances was ISIS. In 2014 when rumors swirled that he would enter the race, only 8% of Republican voters rated terrorism as a problem. Then came images of American journalists having their heads cut off and Jordanian pilots being burned alive. Then came images of Paris and San Bernardino. In the heat of a race with a candidate basically positing an isolationist foreign policy, 27% of voters now considered terrorism a major problem. It did not help Paul’s chances that Cruz had basically changed his stance and wanted to carpet bomb and turn the desert into glass and Trump was thumping his chest with equal zeal. Suddenly the more isolationist policy espoused by Paul seemed quaint given the images.
Further, Paul never really did capture the renegade persona that defined his father’s followers. Instead, Rand Paul was making inroads with more mainstream Republicans starting with his endorsement of Mitch McConnell in his reelection bid. He was trying to marry the renegade libertarian policies of his father with the establishment.
No sooner had Paul called it quits than Cruz’ people began to reach out to Paul’s supporters. In one way, they have been allies, but in others there have been rifts between the two. Apparently those rifts are not resolved and Paul decided not to endorse anybody, although Ted Cruz seemed like the natural fit. It would seem strange that Cruz would go after 4.5% of the vote (what Paul got in Iowa), but it makes sense because of New Hampshire which has a lower evangelical population and a higher libertarian population; he is going after potential votes wherever he can find them to thwart Trump and Rubio’s momentum coming out of Iowa. But, his refusal to endorse sends a subtle message against Ted Cruz. In the end, the Paul supporters must make their own choices and it will be interesting to see where they drift come Tuesday.
These are truly interesting political times. Iowa took out three candidates with New Hampshire likely to take out more (at least two). The other day I posted an article that we may not know a candidate until late May or June. With fewer candidates in the mix, that timetable may have to be moved up a little.