A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
Mike Huckabee, affable host at this weekend’s Republican debate in South Carolina, occasionally (and effortlessly) upstaged the five presidential candidates who participated. The former Arkansas governor remains such a comfortable, self-assured media presence that many conservatives yearn for him to play a more prominent role in the party’s national leadership. Huckabee ruled out a second White House bid more than eight months ago but his continuing popularity as a host on FOX News and hero to religious conservatives raises delicate questions about the candidacy that might-have-been.
Could Huckabee have unified Evangelical Christian voters to keep control of the party firmly in the hands of social conservatives? Would he have enlivened the race with an easy-going style and populist appeal sorely lacking in the present GOP field? And given his obvious strengths as a candidate and the much-discussed weaknesses of the current crop of contenders, why did he make the fateful decision last May to shun the race?
Each of these questions deserves serious attention as a means to clear away confusion concerning the past, present and future state of presidential politics within the Republican Party.