The OZY Hunger Games: No Hope for Huckabee

The OZY Hunger Games: No Hope for Huckabee

By Sean Braswell


Because operating on a tweet and a prayer is not enough to win the presidency.

By Sean Braswell

Remember how the Hunger Games would honor its fallen tributes? In this occasional series, OZY predicts which presidential candidates will be the next to fall — whether they know it or not. 

You’ve got a preacher’s way with words, Gov. Huckabee. And your lofty presidential campaign slogan, “From Hope to Higher Ground,” seemed to work on so many levels. It captured your own journey to prominence from working-class origins in a small town called Hope — never mind that another former Arkansas governor beat you to that personal narrative. It also encapsulated your promise to Republicans to restore America’s greatness after the empty hopes of the Obama years. 

But after six months on the campaign trail, neither your poll numbers nor your blithe candidacy have made the leap to higher ground. (Your campaign did not respond to requests for comment.) And now, excluded from today’s GOP debate in Las Vegas, and facing irrelevancy in the Iowa caucuses, hope is about all you have left.

Back in 2008, you were the great Right hope in Iowa. A formidable ordained Baptist minister with a folksy charm, a quick wit and an actual understanding of how most Americans live, you won the caucuses by nine points before running out of money and evangelical steam. Such blue-collar cred would have made you, the son of a fireman and an office worker, the perfect foil to the blue-blooded Mitt Romney in 2012; but by then you had a lucrative job hosting your own Fox News show and had staked out your own personal higher ground, even if it was only as high as a $3 million McMansion on an eroding beach in Florida.

Your entire candidacy is being increasingly fueled by the power of your personality and the force of your wit.

You may call your new seaside digs the “redneck Riviera,” but it’s a long way from Hope, or higher ground. And even if you have left its cushy confines to re-enter the political arena, you now come across as an aging 60-year-old former gladiator whose armor is just a bit too snug. Sure, you’ve done your best to inject yourself into the conversation, including bold stunts like your jailhouse defense of Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “If you have to put someone in jail, let me go,” you told the cheering crowd after Davis was freed.

And most voters would likely let you. You’ve struggled to widen your appeal beyond social conservatives, and you’ve seen many of those voters desert you for the more fertile electoral terrain of Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. And with economic conservatives wary of your history of raising taxes in Arkansas, and your fundraising struggles mounting, your entire candidacy is being increasingly fueled by the power of your personality and the force of your wit. But with Pastor Trump preaching in the pulpit next door, you’ve had to sharpen your already edgy barbs to maintain what’s left of your flock.

“Racism exists because we have a sin problem in America, not a skin problem,” you tweeted during the first Democratic debate.  Then, taking it up — or rather down — a notch: “I trust @BernieSanders with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador!” It’s going to be tough to reach higher ground, Governor, when you’ve taken such a low road.

It’s time to pass the collection plate for the Fallen, Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.