Irritated McCain to Huckabee: No, I didn't ask Fred Thompson to stay in the race and help defeat you

A fun clip, and not just because it (a) captures Maverick trying to control that famous temper of his and (b) reminds us that Huckabee never lets go of old grievances. There’s no way to know what McCain said to his buddy Fred at the time but I do remember lots of grassroots chatter before South Carolina in 2008 about Thompson serving as a stalking horse for McCain. And, what’s more, I remember a lot of readers being perfectly okay with that because even McCain was preferable for them to the dreaded big-government populist social con Huck. Here’s my question: Do you guys still believe that? Maverick beat Huckabee in South Carolina four years ago by less than four points in a race where Fred finished third with more than 15 percent of the vote. Without Thompson running, those voters probably break for the social conservative Huck over the centrist McCain and suddenly Huckabee’s the big winner in the early states and poised to sweep to the nomination. Normally I wouldn’t bother to ask whether we’d have been better off with a given Republican as president than Obama, but there’s an abiding hostility to Huckabee among our readers even though he polls well (really well) with Republicans generally. And for those of you who answer “of course we’d have been better off nominating Huckabee over McCain, dummy!”, does that mean you’re bummed that he decided not to run this time? Arguably he’s a better fit for the current political climate than Mr. BainCapital is. If we’re going to nominate someone whose small-government bona fides we don’t really trust, why not Huck instead of Mitt?

Exit question: How come Fred always takes the heat for propelling McCain to victory in South Carolina instead of Romney? He nearly matched Thompson’s vote total in the state in 2008 and he was running at the time as a “conservative” before abandoning that identity to become the centrist technocrat we know and grudgingly tolerate today. If he had dropped out after McCain swept past him in New Hampshire, his votes probably would have split between Fred and Huck and we might have ended up with President Huckabee after all. Click the image to watch.