By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.
Do you remember the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when C-3PO told Han Solo, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1” and Han Solo replied, “Never tell me the odds”?
I bring that up because I’m about to play C-3PO to Mike Huckabee’s potential presidential bid.
Huckabee announced this past week that he is ending his Fox News television show because he’s seriously considering running for president again. If he runs, he’ll have to get past a lot of asteroids in order to win the election.
The Republican Party coalition is composed of at least four important elements: super-wealthy anti-government activists; middle-class anti-tax tea partiers; social conservatives; and business establishment types.
Huckabee, for whom I worked as a communications aide a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, has a history of policy decisions and public statements that do not endear him to the first two groups in that coalition. As governor, he helped create a government health care program, ARKids First, and helped pass a one-eighth-cent conservation tax written permanently into the Arkansas Constitution. Those aren’t necessarily bad positions, but they make him vulnerable to attack. The most important super-wealthy anti-government group, the Club for Growth, does not like him at all, and he doesn’t like it, either. In fact, he called it the “Club for Greed.”
Huckabee is solid with the social conservatives, and they will make him competitive in Iowa and other states early during the Republican primaries. But social conservatives are not as powerful as they once were in the party. One of their most important issues, opposition to gay marriage, is no longer the position of a majority of Americans. If Huckabee is the only social conservative in the race, he still might be able to find a niche and be competitive for a while. But if others, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, enter the race, the vote will be divided.
The fourth member of the coalition, business establishment types, will be looking to support one of their own, a Mitt Romney or a Jeb Bush – somebody with a lot of money who can raise a lot more. And that leads us to the really big rock in the 2016 asteroid field.
Republicans have lost four of the past six presidential elections and lost the popular vote in one of the other two. They need to win this one, or it’s going to start looking bad. They had a shot in 2012, but the Republican primary process was awful. The candidates in a crowded field beat each other up for a year and forced Romney to take positions he obviously didn’t really support. The process moved him too far to the right and made him look like a flip-flopper.
If that happens again, and if Clinton decides to run, Republicans are toast. She can spend a year criss-crossing the country raising money before cheering crowds and looking presidential, while they tear each other down trying to appeal to the various parts of the coalition.
To prevent that, Republicans will try to follow the model from 2000, the last time they won an election following a two-term Democratic administration. As they did with George W. Bush that year, the party’s leaders will try to create a process where everyone coalesces behind a single candidate long before it becomes too bloody. The anointed will be someone like Jeb Bush, Romney, or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – someone with the support of the two most important groups in the party’s coalition, the super-wealthy anti-government activists and the business establishment types. Those are the ones with the money.
I started this column by comparing myself to C-3PO for a reason: I’m just the bystander, while Huckabee is the one flying the Millennium Falcon into the asteroid field. Unexpected things happen in presidential campaigns. In 2008, Clinton was the anointed candidate following eight years of a president from the other party, and she didn’t win her party’s nomination. If she doesn’t run this time, it would change the whole dynamic.
Still, the odds are against Huckabee – probably not 3,720 to 1, but steep nonetheless.