The Meaning of Rollins-to-Huckabee

A few thoughts on Ed Rollins’ surprise re-emergence as Mike Huckabee’s campaign chairman:

  • Obviously, Rollins brings a measure of Beltway-media credibility to Huckabee, who, despite his surging poll numbers, is still dismissed by most of the insider class as an affable rube who’s in way over his head. Having someone with Rollins’ background running the campaign will also inspire confidence among potential donors, another area where Huckabee has lagged.
  • While he is a big name, it’s also been a while since the 64-year-old Rollins played at this level. His last foray into presidential politics came in the spring of 1992, when he and Democrat Hamilton Jordan briefly ran Ross Perot’s budding third party campaign, an unmitigated disaster that collapsed thanks in large part to a personality clash between Rollins and Perot. Prior to that, Rollins made his name as Ronald Reagan’s (first term) political advisor and as Reagan’s campaign manager in 1984, when the President won a 49-state re-election landslide. The Republican Party of 2008 is dramatically different from the mid-’80s G.O.P.—even Peggy Noonan wonders if Reagan himself would succeed in the current Republican Party.
  • Rollins’ return is sort of a redemption story. The Perot debacle damaged his standing within the G.O.P., and he became a pariah a year afterward, when, after leading Christie Whitman’s narrow win over New Jersey Governor Jim Florio, he bragged about paying off black ministers to suppress the black vote in urban New Jersey—a boast he later claimed to be making up. No evidence of any payments ever emerged and Rollins was never charged with anything, but the demand for his serviced dried up as a result of the controversy. More recently, he’s found a role as a television commentator. His last campaign was decidedly B-list in nature: K.T. McFarland’s losing bid for the G.O.P. Senate nomination in New York last year. In Huckabee, Rollins has found a ticket back into the big leagues; and with Rollins, Huckabee suddenly looks like a more serious threat to win the nomination.

One footnote: As K.T. McFarland’s campaign manager, Rollins accused her opponent, John Spencer, of bigamy for fathering children as part of a long-term extramarital affair. Now that Huckabee’s main rival is Mitt Romney, it’s fair to wonder what Rollins is going to have to say about Romney’s Mormonism.