On Saturday night, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) ended widespread speculation about his 2012 presidential aspirations, telling viewers of his Fox News show, "All the factors say go, but my heart says no." Huckabee was considered a frontrunner for the GOP nomination — he has consistently polled well with Republican primary voters, especially evangelical Christians and social conservatives, and he finished a surprisingly strong second in the 2008 GOP race. So who benefits from his choice to sit out this round? Here, some winners and losers:
The bass-playing conservative just became a key political power broker in the 2012 contest, holding a much sought-after endorsement, say Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at Politico. He also gets to keep his lucrative media career, including the Fox News show, a syndicated radio program, and speaking engagements. As Donald Trump said in a "bizarre" surprise appearance at the end of Huckabee's show Saturday night, "Mike, enjoy the show, your ratings are terrific, you're making a lot of money, you're building a beautiful house in Florida, good luck."
While Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) would have a good shot at picking up Huckabee supporters, former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain is "the most Huckabee-like of the other Republican candidates," says Nate Silver in The New York Times. Cain has already spent a lot of time in Iowa, and if he wins the caucuses, that would be a game-changer. He's definitely the biggest winner in Huckabee's absence, says Robert Stacy McCain at The Other McCain. "Cain has gone from 'second-tier' to 'damn near front-runner' in the span of two weeks."
Ironically, the biggest beneficiary of Huckabee's decision could be "his arch-nemesis" Mitt Romney, say Martin and Burns at Politico. Huckabee was expected to win in Iowa, while Romney was counting on the New Hampshire primary to seal his frontrunner status. But with Huckabee out, "why couldn’t Romney make a strong showing in Iowa?" If Huckabee's bloc of Iowa supporters splinter among the remaining social conservatives in the race, Romney could win a plurality, making his path to the nomination much easier.
"I wasn't sure whether it was Mike Huckabee or Rodney Dangerfield on TV," says Larry Sabato at Politico, "The message was the same: 'I don't get no respect.'" Well, you earn respect by winning, and "The Huck was almost as unlikely to be the nominee in 2012 as in 2008." And a good way not to be taken seriously? Announce your presidential intentions on your own show, after chatting with one-time Saved by the Bell star Mario Lopez and jamming with Ted Nugent.
Huckabee's departure leaves the GOP field "without a well known social conservative candidate — a void that will be even more pronounced if... Palin decides against the race," says Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post. The absence of "a credible frontrunner for the conservative base" may only be temporary, says George Washington University professor Christopher Arterton at Politico. But it will still "strengthen the possibilities of a centrist capturing the nomination without a debilitating bloodbath of fratricide."
The Republican Party
This isn't just bad for social conservatives, says GOP consultant Ford O'Connell at Politico. Huckabee's decision is also "a major blow to the Republican Party in its quest to unseat President Obama." He wasn't a sure bet to win the nomination by any stretch, but "his presence in the race would have brought a broader coalition into the GOP tent to liven up the field and make the current crop of candidates that much stronger as a result."