Let’s see. Sarah Huckabee’s signing on to the campaign, and the SEC primary, which includes Arkansas and is chock full of evangelical voters, is next Tuesday — and Trump’s holding an event in Arkansas this coming Saturday.
I wonder if any surprise guests will show up to endorse him.
“I have great respect for Governor Mike Huckabee and we have a mutual admiration for our wonderful families. It is great to have his daughter, Sarah, join the campaign,” Trump said in a statement.
“What makes Mr. Trump my choice for president is he will break the grip of the donor class on our government and make it accountable to working families again,” said [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders, who is joining Trump’s team as a senior advisor.
Huckabee endorsing Trump now makes sense. He was probably torn between Trump, the blue-collar hero, and Rubio, the true-blue evangelical who backed Huck for president in 2008 as a state legislator. Maybe he held off for a month to see how things would shake out, determined to hitch his wagon to whichever of them looked poised to win on Super Tuesday — or, more specifically, which of them looked like more likely to damage Ted Cruz, whom Huckabee obviously resents for having won all the influential evangelical endorsements last year that Huck was hoping to claim. That answer is now clear. I’ll bet Huckabee is relishing the exit polls showing Trump winning a bigger share of the evangelical vote than the supposed pretender whom people like Bob Vander Plaats and James Dobson preferred to Huckabee himself. What better way to grind their faces in Cruz’s failure than to hop aboard the Trump train, the new political home of America’s “values voters”? There are bound to be some evangelicals out there still trying to decide between Trump, Cruz, and Rubio. Huckabee helps Trump with them.
It’s worth re-reading this post from late January speculating that Huck might have his eye on being Trump’s VP. I stand by the argument there: In various ways, from executive experience to religious credibility to blue-collar authenticity to regional diversity, Huckabee would be a nice complement on the ticket to Trump. The strength of the case has faded, though, now that Trump has proved himself to be surprisingly strong with the sort of Christian voters who seemed likely to balk at him in the primaries and, potentially, in the general election. Trump doesn’t need Huckabee to turn out evangelicals, which gives him a freer hand in choosing his number two. I still think he’ll need some broader regional appeal, which is why Christie won’t hack it as veep. Kasich is a strong possibility but Kasich is sufficiently centrist that he might not help convince anti-Trump conservatives to vote for the GOP ticket in November. The two potential VPs who are most likely to do that are, of course, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Which of them is more likely to join the ticket?
I’ve thought about that and I honestly can’t decide. Trump and Cruz have attacked each other so viciously for so long now that it’s hard to imagine how they could spin a reconciliation. Is Trump going to go out there and say that he used to think Cruz was the sleaziest liar he’d ever met and constitutionally ineligible to be president, but now has had a sudden conversion? Well … yeah. That’s exactly what he would say. And Trump’s fans would applaud because that’s what they do for anything Trump says. Others would scoff, but no one really holds Trump accountable for his insults because they’re perceived as entirely self-serving. If calling Cruz a sleazy liar helps Trump get what he wants now and naming Cruz as VP helps Trump get what he wants later, well, what’s inconsistent about that? The question is whether Cruz would go for it. He’ll have his Senate seat in Texas for as long as he wants it, and he’d be well positioned to lead a national conservative political resistance to Trump if that’s what he wants to do. But I think there’s a chance he’d make up with Trump. He’d earn back some goodwill from Trumpers that way, which would be important to have in the “new” GOP, and that would set him up to run in 2024. Would Cruz prioritize his own ambition over Trump’s movement-shattering threat to conservatism, though? I know how I’d bet.
How about Rubio? Rubio would be attractive to Trump as a VP because, to date, he’s been nice to Trump and there’s no quality Trump prizes more highly in a human than being nice to Trump. Importantly, he’d also be a bridge to the Republican establishment. If Trump really wants to unite populists, conservatives, and establishmentarians in the fall, there’s no way to signal his intent to do that more efficiently than by adding Marco Rubio to his ticket. I think Rubio fans would like to believe Marco would say no — he’s simply too good, too optimistic, too next-gen to sign on with Trump’s retrograde movement. I don’t know, though. Remember, unlike Cruz, Rubio’s out of politics next year if his campaign fails. He can and probably will try to run for governor of Florida in 2018, but Florida’s an increasingly tough state for Republicans. He might win, but he’s no sure thing. And if he doesn’t win, his political career will be in deep trouble. He’ll be a loser at the national level and at the state level. Where does he run after that? His best bet at this point to keep his career going is to accept a VP offer from Trump, hope they win so that he’s the presumptive nominee in 2024, and count on the increased exposure from the general election campaign to help him in the governor’s race if they end up losing. I bet Rubio would come under lots of pressure from the GOP establishment to join the ticket too on the theory that only a big-name young conservative like him or Cruz on the ballot could give disaffected righties a reason to turn out for the party this fall. Even if he and Trump end up losing, that might be enough to save a few GOP Senate seats.
Exit question: Who’s more likely to be VP, Cruz or Rubio?