Via BuzzFeed, it’s a testament to how marginal Huckabee is in this race that a nuclear bomb of an ad like this has barely drawn comment from political junkies. You can’t go an hour online without a new piece dropping about Jeb Bush and Right to Rise trying to sink Marco Rubio in New Hampshire, but Bush has a far better chance of helping himself amid the center-right jumble than Huckabee has of surging in Iowa. Realistically, the worst-case scenario for Cruz in Iowa is second place with polling in the low 20s; if scorched-earth ads like this peel off some of his social conservative support, it’s probably going to Rubio, Ben Carson, or even Trump, who polls well with evangelicals against all odds. Trump also benefits from the “two-man race” dynamic that’s dominated Iowa for the past two weeks, where it’s taken as a fait accompli by everyone except Rubio voters that the state will come down to Trump and Cruz. That being so, what should a good Christian who’s looking to influence the result do if he concludes he can’t give Ted Cruz his vote? Waste it on Mike Huckabee or caucus for Trump and finish Cruz off?
What you’re seeing here, in other words, is the full realization of the sort of spite campaign that Bush is often accused of running in New Hampshire. Huckabee can wreck Cruz by splitting off some of his social-con support but he can’t personally benefit from doing so. In fact, watch the ad and you’ll see that no attempt is made to contrast Cruz unfavorably with Huck. Huckabee isn’t even mentioned. This is pure seek-and-destroy with Cruz in the crosshairs, and amazingly, it’s being done to benefit a candidate widely perceived as the least religious person in either field. New from Pew:
Among Republicans, 76 percent view Cruz as very or somewhat religious, second-best among major candidates after Ben Carson, versus just seven percent who don’t. For Trump, those numbers are 44/47 — the only GOPer to have a plurality who view his devotion skeptically. (Even so, a slightly higher percentage of white evangelicals say Trump would make a great or good president than say so of Cruz, 52/49.) Listen to Huck on the stump and you’ll hear endlessly that the way to make America great again is to install a true Christian believer who’ll fight for Christian morality as president — and yet, given the option to attack the Christian believer Cruz for not tithing or the chance to attack a guy who doesn’t know if he’s ever asked God for forgiveness and is seen as not terribly religious by a plurality of his own party, Team Huck oddly goes after … the former. That’s weird, no? A few weeks ago, Huckabee made the astonishing accusation that evangelical leaders who’ve endorsed Cruz over him obviously are less interested in Christianity than in political power — and yet here’s Huck’s Super PAC trying to ingratiate themselves to Trump by ruining the evangelical Cruz. What conclusions should we draw from that about whether Huckabee’s accusation was motivated more by sincere belief or by butthurt? Here’s an early consolation for Cruz fans if things go sideways in Iowa on Monday night: Whatever happens, Huckabee’s political career is weeks, maybe days, away from ending. He might crawl on to South Carolina, convinced that a weakened Cruz will start shedding socially conservative support his way, but he’s kidding himself. He’s dying, and he’s resolved to take Cruz with him even if that means the guy who says “Two Corinthians” ends up as nominee. Is Jeb Bush really worse than Huckabee?
Before you answer that, read this. Yikes.
Update: Ah, the final spiteful revenge for Cruz beating the pants off of them among their own base. Will it happen, though?
In an interview with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that he had heard from other candidates “proactively” about attending the event that Mr. Trump will hold at Drake University at the same time as the debate…
Aides to the candidates did not respond to requests for comment. But Nick Ryan, a Republican operative who advises the “super PAC” supporting Mr. Huckabee, tweeted shortly after the Trump event was announced that candidates in the undercard debate, which airs before the prime-time one, should consider wandering over to Mr. Trump’s event afterward.