Mike Huckabee’s value to Rudy Giuliani has been well-documented. But the relationship is a two-way street—something Mr. Huckabee made clear on national television on Sunday.
Toward the end of a 20-minute interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, Mr. Huckabee was essentially given a free shot at Mr. Giuliani, asked to assess the Rudy’s claim that the accounting procedures that resulted in security expenses for trips with his then-paramour being billed to the city of New York while he was mayor had been "perfectly appropriate."
Mr. Huckabee could easily have piled on, either overtly or with subtlety, but instead he offered a rather rousing defense of Mr. Giuliani, framing the story as the product of overzealous, context-ignorant reporting.
"I thought it was a cheap-shot at Rudy," Mr. Huckabee declared. "There’s no point in trying to dig through what his security detail did, unless they can specifically say that he personally ordered something.
"I know how it works in the security detail of a governor. Governors don’t specifically say, ‘OK, here’s how I want you to budget that.’ Governors pretty much just take care of their business, and the security detail manages the manner in which they handle the security. And I thought it’s a little bit of a stretch to go after Rudy for how his security detail accounted for their finances."
A man accused of bilking the taxpayers for weekend getaways with his paramour could hardly do better than to be defended by an ordained Baptist minister.
Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Giuliani are ostensibly political opponents, but each is faced with the same immediate imperative in the Republican presidential race: to prevent Mitt Romney from running the table in the early primary and caucus states and running away with the nomination.
Mr. Giuliani’s side of this deal has been obvious for sometime. The former mayor, thanks to his social liberalism, past personal conduct, and a campaign organization not geared toward caucus politics, is himself in no position to dethrone Mr. Romney in Iowa. But Mr. Huckabee, the affable preacher who can compete with—if not obliterate—Mr. Romney on both a cultural and a rhetorical level, is. In fact, Mr. Stephanopoulos, noting a new poll that has him leading Iowa by five points over Mr. Romney, introduced Mr. Huckabee on Sunday as "the front-runner in Iowa."
If Mr. Huckabee scores what the media interprets as a clear victory in Iowa, Mr. Romney’s standing in the next state – New Hampshire – will soften, perhaps giving Mr. Giuliani an opportunity to score an unexpected win there, effectively knocking Mr. Romney out of the race two states into the process.
But there is just as much value in this arrangement for Mr. Huckabee.
First, Mr. Romney, his Iowa positioning in jeopardy, has desperately turned his guns on Mr. Huckabee—just as he earlier turned his guns on Mr. Giuliani, the leader in national polls. In fighting back, Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Giuliani can’t afford to get distracted by fighting among themselves. Plus, any shot Mr. Huckabee takes at Mr. Giuliani now might lower Mr. Giuliani’s standing – making him less credible when he attacks Mr. Romney. That would not be in Mr. Huckabee’s interest either.
Mr. Huckabee’s nomination strategy depends on following up an Iowa win with a victory in South Carolina, which will vote after New Hampshire. Those twin triumphs, the thinking goes, would make Mr. Huckabee a player in the February 5 mega-primary, backed by a unique coalition of Christian conservatives and pragmatists who—thanks to the Iowa and South Carolina wins—conclude that his winning personality and acceptability to the party base would make him the strongest general election candidate.
Just like Mr. Giuliani needs Mr. Huckabee in Iowa, Mr. Huckabee needs Mr. Giuliani in New Hampshire. With his limited campaign treasury, the former Arkansas governor has to pick his targets in the early going. And South Carolina, where his Christian background and regional accent makes him "one of us" to the locals, is much more inviting post-Iowa target than New Hampshire. So Mr. Huckabee, like Mr. Giuliani in Iowa, would settle for a solid third place showing in New Hampshire, while counting on Mr. Giuliani (or perhaps even John McCain—but that’s another topic) to deal the death knell to Mr. Romney.
A Giuliani win in New Hampshire would set the stage for a Huckabee-Giuliani contest in South Carolina, which would be preferable to the Huckabee forces than facing Mr. Romney in there. Both Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Romney have weakness in South Carolina, but Mr. Romney—with the exception his Mormonism—has fewer of them. Plus, his campaign is better organized and better funded than Mr. Giuliani’s.
And there’s further incentive for Mr. Huckabee to lay off Mr. Giuliani. It is inconceivable that Mr. Romney, if nominated, would turn to Mr. Huckabee, a fellow governor who also lacks foreign policy experience, as his running-mate. But Mr. Giuliani, who would badly need to mollify the G.O.P.’s religious conservatives as the presidential nominee, would look long and hard at Mr. Huckabee, who would bring regional, ideological, cultural and stylistic balance to a prospective ticket.
Of course, it’s possible Mr. Huckabee and Mr. Giuliani will still end up at each others’ throats—especially if they are the lone survivors heading into February 5. Maybe then Mr. Huckabee will embrace a different view of how Mr. Giuliani managed the books back in New York.