In an interview on Fox News today, Mike Huckabee registered his objection to the idea of Mitt Romney joining this year’s Republican ticket.
“Mitt Romney has had very definite swings of positions— not just one or two little things, but on many of the issues,” Huckabee said. He later added: “I think that there are better choices for Senator McCain, that would have the approval of values voters.”
Huckabee’s concerns, it’s probably fair to assume, have a lot more to do with 2012 then with 2008. Both Huckabee and Romney saw their reputations enhanced by their campaigns this year, and each now has high name recognition and a sizable following within the G.O.P. As soon as McCain cemented this year’s nomination, both Huckabee and Romney began competing for the mantle of next-in-line – an invaluable designation in a party whose presidential nomination tends to be inherited more than it is earned.
Initially, they both set their sights on this year’s VP slot, each aware that the spotlight of a national general election campaign offers an unparalleled opportunity for profile enhancement – whether the ticket wins or loses. History suggests that not many losing VP nominees go on to claim their party’s presidential nomination, but almost all of them did go on to seek it and were more credible in doing so because of their stints on the national ticket.
But it quickly became clear that only Romney has a realistic chance of being tabbed by McCain – an irony, since it was Romney who ran a cutthroat attack campaign against McCain this year, while Huckabee formed an informal anti-Romney alliance with McCain. But Huckabee is a non-starter as a VP prospect because his appeal is too limited to the Christian base of the Republican Party. Democrats would have a field day painting him as a kooky religious extremist – the embodiment of middle-of-the-road independent voters’ worst assumptions about the Christian right.
Romney, on the other hand, has shown a remarkable willingness and ability to re-craft his home image to suit whatever his political imperatives happen to be. In this sense, he’s reminiscent of George H. W. Bush, who seemed wedded to few ideological principles during his career, but who also won high marks for his charm and personal touch. Romney ran to the right in the primaries and won a following among a good chunk of the G.O.P. base, but he’d be much easier to market to independent voters in the fall.
So if Huckabee can’t have the VP slot for himself, he’s left to make sure it goes to anyone but Romney. Which probably explains why when, late in the Fox interview, Huckabee didn’t exactly go out of his way to discourage McCain from choosing Tom Ridge – or any other pro-choice running mate (like, say, Joe Lieberman?).
“I hope that whoever he picks would be pro-life,” Huckabee said. “If they’re not, then I hope that they will commit – if they’re not hardcore pro-life— that they will not do anything that will somehow be disruptive to what has been a very important part of the Republican platform.”
Huckabee’s words certainly make it seem like he’d be willing to accept a pro-choice VP candidate who promises to live with the G.O.P.’s pro-life platform language (which, undoubtedly, any pro-choice candidate picked by McCain would be).
Huckabee and Romney essentially finished in a tie for second place this year. If Romney secures the VP slot, then the tie will be broken and Romney will have a leg up heading into the next G.O.P. race. Huckabee’s certainly doing his best to make sure that doesn’t happen.