Huckabee missed his moment

2. With weary Republicans sensing something important but indefinable missing from their current nomination fight, could Mike Huckabee have helped to fill that gap? The answer is an unequivocal yes: he would have brought elements of charm, good humor and regular-guy charisma that none of the 2012 candidates comes close to providing. Watching tape of The Huck’s consistently superb debate performances of 2008, or even viewing his gracious role as host in this weekend’s South Carolina get-together, gives some idea of what the GOP lost when he chose not to run. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich both rose from relatively humble backgrounds but they’re so intense, hard-driving and tightly wound that no one (not even their own mothers) could plausibly describe them as folksy, genial or easy-going. Rick Perry seems too goofy and Ron Paul too crotchety to qualify as populist icons, while Mitt Romney comes across as an unstoppable, soulless robot (to his detractors) or likable but stiff (to his admirers – and I admit I’m one of them). Compare them all to Huckabee, whose underfunded 2008 campaign connected with people in every corner of the country through the sheer force of his personality. He employed a masterful line to defuse media attempts to portray him as a fire-and-brimstone fanatic: “I’m a conservative, but I’m not angry about it.” Even with the bitter cross-currents riling the right wing in the Age of Obama, Huckabee’s optimism, likeability and friendly persuasion would have gained considerable traction had he chosen to run again. Anger is vastly overrated as a political tool, and it’s no accident that the least angry candidate in the bunch has become the prohibitive favorite for the nomination. Mitt Romney insists he’s not really a “Massachusetts Moderate” when it comes to policy, but his moderate temperament and unflappable demeanor remain his most formidable advantages in combating his critics.