I see him almost inevitably as a spoiler rather than a true contender — as a figure who’s likely to split the vote that might otherwise consolidate around a single conservative rival to Jeb or Christie or whomever, but whose own chances at the nomination are exceedingly low. Since this “Huckabee as splitter/spoiler” narrative is basically conventional wisdom, I should add a wrinkle: In a crowded field he might also be helpful to a sui generis figure like Rand Paul, because he could weaken a movement candidate like Ted Cruz among evangelicals while Paul takes votes from Cruz from the libertarian side.
Dougherty is unsure who Huckabee’s candidacy will hurt:
The most fascinating question to my mind is which of the other viable 2016 GOP candidates Mike Huckabee will dislike the most.
He is a capable assassin. In 2008, his distaste for Romney was obvious — and often hilarious. Like a lot of Evangelicals who grew up on books describing Mormonism as a “cult,” Huckabee couldn’t restrain himself from making less-than-respectful comments about Latter-Day Saint theology. He considered Romney “presumptuous and arrogant,” and in the most memorable line of the 2008 GOP primary, said Mitt looked more “like the guy that fired you” than the one who hires you. Huckabee did more than anyone to create a McCain comeback, certainly more than McCain himself.
In this way, Huckabee has a kind of veto power. He’s able to prevent his opponents from consolidating social conservatives as part of a primary coalition. Who will be the next victim?
Sally Kohn respects Mike:
[P]erhaps the most dangerous thing about Mike Huckabee is that some of those firm beliefs, those clear convictions, appeal to liberal voters. In a post-Occupy moment, when even Democrats are desperate to strike the chord of economic populism—fueling, for instance, the clamoring for Elizabeth Warren to mount a challenge Hillary Clinton—Huckabee spouts populist rhetoric with ease. …
In campaigns that are more about more about ads and appearances and personality, and sadly less about substance—even though substantive disagreements exist and are key—the sense that Huckabee is a Republican who knows there are poor people, knows how to talk about them, and apparently wants to do something to help could be very appealing. As evidence, Huckabee is pro-government enough—which is to say, at all—that already the arch anti-tax Club for Growth is pledging to oppose his potential 2016 candidacy because he “increased state spending” in Arkansas and “raised the minimum wage.”
But Linker sighs at Huckabee’s populism:
[Huckabee’s schtick] is the irritable mental gesture of a provincial (rural or exurban) white America that can’t tell the difference between cultural signaling and a cogent argument. And it treats the details of public policy as an afterthought or a matter of indifference.
Would-be Republican reformers can look for a better vehicle than Mike Huckabee for the populism they favor, but they’re unlikely to find one. Huckabee — or someone like him — is the only game in town. The authentic reform of the GOP — its refashioning into a genuinely national party — requires more than the shedding of its plutocratic image. It also requires that the party’s leading lights give up on their impossible populist dreams.
And Enten calculates that Huckabee has little chance at the nomination:
The vast majority (70 percent) of Republican delegates are fromoutside the former Confederate states. Given that many non-Southern states have minimum thresholds to win delegates or will be winner take all, Huckabee would win few delegates in them if he performs anything like he did in 2008. In fact, his path to a majority of delegates would probably be shut out no matter how well he does in the South.