Mike Huckabee: I don't understand why evangelical leaders aren't uniting behind me

Anyone want to help him solve this confounding mystery?

Incidentally, allow me to go on record now as predicting that Huckabee will endorse Marco Rubio once he drops out.

“For reasons I don’t fully understand, years and years of actually doing something and getting things done didn’t matter,” Huckabee said of the group’s deliberations. ”And I don’t understand that.”…

Huckabee, according to sources, has often reminded [Tony] Perkins and his fellow influencers that a major reason he gave up his Fox News show and launched a 2016 campaign was because he expected to have their backing. Their decision to instead support Cruz, then, seemed to sting Huckabee personally as much as politically.

“You know, everybody has a right to do what they want to do. But it was disappointing to me. These are guys I’ve worked with for years and years. Many of them I’ve helped with their projects and their various endeavors,” Huckabee says, shaking his head. A moment later, he adds, “But you know, that’s life.”

The “group” mentioned in that passage is a coalition of 50 or so conservative leaders, led by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, who’ve been meeting for nearly two years about choosing the next GOP nominee. Their strategy is the same as the strategy for Christian conservative leaders in Iowa: Unite. Instead of splitting five different ways among various social-conservative candidates, pick one, back him, and hope that a consolidated right-wing vote propels that man to the nomination. Last week they finally voted and chose, not surprisingly, Ted Cruz as their man. The surprise was that it took five rounds of balloting, according to NRO’s Tim Alberta, and that the other finalist alongside Cruz wasn’t Mike Huckabee. It was Marco Rubio. What happened to 2008 Iowa winner and longtime social-con champ Huck?

What happened is that he’s pulling two percent nationally and three percent in his Iowa “stronghold.” I think Huckabee got into the race expecting, like a lot of people did, that Cruz would be a minor player in the race. He’s a populist like Huck, which means he probably wouldn’t raise much money. He’d get some love from tea partiers, but fierce competition from Rubio, Rand Paul, and Scott Walker for those votes would hold him down. The 2013 shutdown would be hung around his neck and voters wouldn’t be able to help themselves from contrasting Huckabee’s personal charm on the stump with Cruz’s more trial-lawyerly demeanor. Social conservatives, eager for a champ, would inevitably coalesce behind Huck, a man who’d proved he can win the caucuses, who’d stand a strong chance in the SEC primary with the establishment vote split between Rubio, Bush, and Walker, and who might catch fire with blue-collar voters making a middle-class economic pitch. In reality, Cruz was a much better fundraiser than anyone expected and has run the most well organized campaign of the field. Paul and Walker were paper tigers, leaving Cruz free to mostly monopolize grassroots conservatives with Trump. Trump’s ascendancy, meanwhile, stole all of Huckabee’s blue-collar thunder. And because “values” have mattered so little to the primary thus far, with the agenda dominated by terrorism and immigration, Huckabee’s retail appeal didn’t really matter. Ultimately it was a pure question of who should evangelical leaders bet their political capital on: Huckabee, who couldn’t win more than one important early state against a weak field in 2008, or Cruz, who’s now certain to go deep into the campaign against the strongest field in ages? Why would Christian conservative leaders throw away their influence on a sure loser like Huck when they have a chance to restore perceptions of themselves as kingmakers by giving Cruz a boost?

Huck is going to have a tiny bit of revenge when he endorses Rubio over Cruz, though — I think. It’d be frowned upon by his social-con colleagues if he upset the unity vibe by backing a Cruz opponent, but imagine how sweet that spite will taste to him when he does it. And don’t forget, before Marco Rubio was a U.S. senator, he was a Mike Huckabee fan: Huckabee, implausibly, was Rubio’s candidate of choice in 2008. I wonder how much sway Huck’s endorsement would have with evangelicals at this point. On the one hand, he’s, er, at two percent nationally. On the other hand, how many prominent Christian pols are better known to voters than he is? At a minimum, that’d be a showy way for Rubio to signal to Christians that he’s a man of faith too, even if he isn’t as frequently vocal about it as Cruz is.

By the way, in keeping with “the group’s” strategy of rolling out their endorsements one by one in order to build buzz for Cruz, James Dobson of Focus on the Family announced his backing for Cruz this morning. Alberta’s all over that story too. Exit question: Will Huck 2016 make it to caucus night in Iowa? Hmmmm.