A lot has changed since Mike Huckabee last ran for President eight years ago, and so has the Republican Party. Huckabee has adapted along with the GOP from the compassionate conservatism of the Bush era to the fits and spasms of anti-Obamaism that has taken the place of explicit policy positions. If Huckabee stands a chance to win Iowa as he did in 2008, he will have to synthesize an argument that has room for government control on social issues and a libertarian outlook on others. This new conservatism à la carte is a two-step most GOP hopefuls will be forced into, but Huckabee will have the added task of having to debate his former self.
In 2005, Huckabee wrote a book about controlling one’s lifestyle through a “12 stop” program to end unhealthy habits. In 2014, he wrote a book glorifying southern culture and excess, which looks more like a list of things most likely to kill you south of the Mason-Dixon line, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.” The former has the ring of Michelle Obama’s health initiatives and the latter could have been carved into Strom Thurmond’s gravestone. However, there’s little evidence that the GOP donor class will have any stomach for a born and raised southerner. The only thing preventing the GOP from becoming the old Democratic Party of the south is a money trail that flows from the economic centers of the north. And Mike Huckabee on a whistle stop tour of western Iowa giving modern Cross of Gold speeches will attract only their derision. But in a Super PAC era not available in 2008, Huckabee only needs one mega-donor to prop up his campaign between Iowa and Super Tuesday, when the south will vote in force.
Huckabee’s main competition in Iowa will of course be Rick Santorum, who picked up most of Huckabee’s voters in 2012. Santorum’s support of raising the minimum wage will be a thorn in the side of all his fellow candidates, but no one more than Huckabee. Huck’s campaign will require a grassroots “for the little guy” feel, but it seems unlikely that he will embrace the level of Bryanism Santorum appears ready to champion. Once you add Walker, Perry, and Paul to the field, the only distinguishing characteristic of Huckabee is that he alone represents the Deep South, a fact which is nearly good enough to lose the nomination by itself. The GOP has never nominated a born and raised southerner, and many in the party believe it would lead to a rout in November.