Huckabee Passes

May 16, 2011

Late Saturday night, Mike Huckabee announced that he would not be running for president in 2012. The runner-up for the Republican nomination in 2008 (the picture is one I took of him on the night of his Iowa caucus victory in 2008), Huckabee's departure opens the field up even more and removes the candidate who seemed best poised to defeat President Barack Obama (since he generally polls the best in the general election match-up and has the highest net approval rating of any potential Republican candidate). Despite polling well, it seemed fairly obvious for some time that he did not really want to run again. Huckabee's departure is good news for Iowa Republicans since their state's first-in-the-nation contest will once again be incredibly important. Huckabee was likely a shoe-in to win the race there--since he won it in 2008 despite being lesser-known and underfunded. Now, however, it is an open race, which will draw in other candidates for a more serious contest. This is also good news for many of the other candidates. Mitt Romney, the other frontrunner due to his performance in 2008, loses the one candidate who faced the most serious challenge at the start. However, many other candidates who appeal to Huckabee's conservative evangelical base and can meet the rhetorical expectations of our age of confessional politics now have the opportunity to shine and assert themselves as the candidate to challenge Romney, whose Mormon faith hurts him among many evangelicals (see post here). Several candidates have been already working to appeal to this constituency, including evangelicals Tim Pawlenty (see post here), Michele Bachmann, and Herman Cain (see post here), as well as evangelical Catholics Rick Santorum (see post here) and Newt Gingrich (see post here). Celebrity candidates like Donald Trump and Roy Moore, neither of whom will not mount a serious challenge, have also appealed to evangelicals (see post here). In particular, it would seem that Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Santorum have the most to gain as one of them could emerge as the new Huckabee (Bachmann and Cain seem unlikely to rise to that stature but could play spoilers by splitting the vote). As I noted in my new book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics), Huckabee was one of the candidates who could have used the confessional political style effectively. Thus, his decision to sit out the race is not only good news to many Republican candidates but also to Obama. Interestingly, Huckabee's statement announcing that he would not run was itself a good example of confessional politics. In his statement, he explained his decision in religious terms:

When people asked me what it would take for me to run, I would tell them the same thing--pray for me to have clarity in the decision. I don't expect everyone to understand this, but I'm a believer and follower of Jesus Christ. That relationship is far more important to me than any political office. For me, the decision is ultimately not a political one, a financial one, or even a practical one--it's a spiritual one.
This statement matched Huckabee's political tone throughout his career. As NPR noted recently, Huckabee's pastoral career prepared the way for his political career (which prepared the way for his Fox News career). There was even a "Pray for Mike Huckabee" website where people pledged to pray that he would know whether or not to run. It will be interesting to watch who--if anyone--can fill his void in the 2012 campaign.