The story of South Carolina's Republican primary has been written.
Mike Huckabee's campaign is in serious jeopardy, while McCain's road to the White House looks better than ever. Mitt Romney is still spending a lot of money, but can only seem to win when no one else campaigns or he has a family tree. Joe Carter offers this bit of analysis:
If McCain is smart he'll offer the VP slot to Huckabee. If Huckabee is smart he'll turn it down. The failure of John Edwards campaign is a reminder that the country doesn't like general election losers. Rather than being on the losing ticket in '08, Huckabee should sit out the race and wait until 2012.
I'm not sure I agree with this assessment. No ticket would anger the Republican punditocracy more than this one, which McCain probably can't afford to do. In fact, the Corner may just explode if McCain wins and Huck is VP. He would probably be better served by making Mitt his VP, though that will probably never happen.
In addition, it's not so clear that second attempts go well for anyone. While McCain's chances have clearly improved over last time, Republicans were going to pick a compromise candidate this year, and McCain seems to be that guy. That's hardly a resounding endorsement from the party. The odds that the field are this weak in the future are (I hope!) low. Huckabee got this far in part because of his anonymity--next time, he would have to overcome serious opposition among Republican elites from the beginning. He might do it, but it isn't likely.
Huck's best shot is now. If Giuiliani wins it all, he has to choose Huck to even prompt social conservatives to think about voting for him. Of course, Huckabee couldn't accept without destroying his credentials as a social conservative. Hence, I don't think he'd accept.
If Romney wins it all, he may as well choose Huck to broaden his appeal beyond the Republican elites. While he clearly has the organization in place, his supporters lack the zeal that wins elections. For whatever reason, his robotic personality and desire to do anything for political gain rubs people the wrong way. Choosing Huckabee would be a significant step toward remedying those problems. In addition, it would satisfy any lingering concerns about his conversion to pro-life issues and effectively eliminate the "Mormon question" (which doesn't really exist, but we'll acknowledge it here for argument's sake). If anyone should choose Huckabee as their VP, it's Romney. If McCain hangs on, he won't choose Huck. He may get his kicks from angering the Republican base, but he is smart enough to know he needs them to win in 2008. He'll work to pacify the Republican elites, and choosing Huckabee is probably the worst choice for that.
For Huckabee supporters, then, Romney is the best hope for four years of Huckabee on a national stage, and for a plausible second chance at the Presidency. It's an unlikely pairing given the primaries, but Republicans are supposed to put everything behind them for the generals, right? Romney needs someone like Huckabee to win the general election, especially if Obama and Hillary join forces (though any Republican winning the general against that tandem is a fancy).
Hence, as a Huckabee supporter, I support Mitt Romney for President.*
*This is mildly tongue-in-cheek. When my turn to vote comes, I'll still vote Huckabee. But only because I have very low hopes that the above scenario would happen. Mitt Romney hasn't displayed much political acumen during the primaries, and I have no reason to think that he would be that savvy in his choice of his VP (or that Huckabee would agree to do it).
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.