Why Mike Huckabee lost in 2016

Huckabee suffered indignity after indignity as it became clear that 2016 was not his race. Evangelical leaders defected from the candidate they once supported. There was Falwell. Then there was Bob Vander Plaats, president of the social-conservative organization The Family Leader, who endorsed Ted Cruz, despite having chaired Huckabee’s Iowa campaign in 2008. Meanwhile, Huckabee was reduced to trailing Trump in a last-ditch effort to win attention. After failing to qualify for the GOP primetime debate last week, he showed up along with fellow GOP candidate and previous Iowa caucus winner Rick Santorum at a veterans’ fundraiser Trump hastily organized after a spat with Fox News. The candidates looked ill at ease when Trump called them up on stage. At one point, the crowd erupted into cries of of “U-S-A, U-S-A.” Huckabee waited for the raucous cheers to die down before saying: “In my mind, I was hearing you say, ‘Go, Huck, go.’” The crowd laughed at the idea.

Huckabee didn’t have the national profile or political relevancy of Trump, a former reality-television star, or Cruz, a sitting senator. That also proved to be a problem in 2016, which quickly became a national race. The election season has so far been shaped by national cable news coverage and polling. Huckabee’s failure to deliver a strong performance in national polls amid a crowded GOP field pushed him off the prime-time GOP debate stage as primary season dragged on, relegating him to a series of events derided as “kids’ table” debates.