Monday, May 16, 2011

Was the Huck Winnowed?

Did Mike Huckabee drop out of the fight for the nomination because he lost? Or did he not enter that fight, because he chose not to?

Why does it matter? Well, for academic research, it matters because if we want to discover how the process works and what causes some candidates to win and others to lose, then it's quite important to correctly assess which candidates ran. For the press, it's important because there's at least a case to be made that reporters should concentrate on covering real candidates, not just speculating about those who aren't in. And I suppose it's important for future candidates for the same reason it's important for academics; they, too, want to know what it takes to win, and that involves knowing how candidates lose.

The problem is that we really don't know, and even worse, it's possible that we can't know. It's possible that Huck himself doesn't know. That's the nature of the current nomination process, in which many important events happen well before formal declarations of candidacy. Huckabee had to choose between running for president and continuing his lucrative TV career, but it seems likely that his assessment of the odds of a presidential run succeeding was part of that decision. If Barack Obama had been at 35% approval rather than around 50%; if various GOP bigshots were clamoring for a Huck run instead of a Daniels or a Christie campaign; if whatever efforts he did make went better than they did....well, maybe he's in today, instead of out. One of the variables here is probably how much the potential candidate wants it, but it's probably better to think of that as a factor, rather than the whole story. That is, if Huck wanted it more maybe he's in -- but also, if he wanted it at his current level but his proto-campaign was going better, maybe he's in.

The thing to remember is that the nomination battle generally lasts for three years or so, and that formal declarations of candidates happen very late in the process thanks to a variety of laws and customs, most notably campaign finance laws. That's why Conor Friedersdorf's complaint that the press shouldn't cover undeclared candidates is really wrong. He's right that some press "in or out" speculation is pretty mindless, but restricting coverage to declared candidates would mean missing big portions of the contest. In fact, in many cycles, including both the Democrats and the Republicans in 2000, almost all of the important stuff happened very early, certainly before the voters got involved beginning in Iowa, and probably before anyone declared their candidacy.

So, Huck? Well, he didn't do much to run for the 2012 nomination, but he did do some things. I think the case that he was in at any point is less clear than it was for, say, Haley Barbour...whether he was winnowed out, perhaps, is more about how one looks at things than an objective, clear, fact. That's a mess for research, and a mess for reporters, but if it's the truth then it's probably better to work with the truth than to ignore it on the grounds of analytic simplicity, no?


  1. Agreed. Parsimony is nice, but you don't ignore what's staring you in the face for the sake of simplicity. Look, we don't know if Huckabee was ever running, but he performed well enough in 2008, he polled well enough for 2012 and teased his polling position (in the primaries and against Obama) in enough comments over the last couple of years to warrant attention from academics and the press. That said, the one knock on Huckabee the whole time was that he wasn't putting in place the sort of campaign infrastructure that other (prospective) candidates were/are assembling. That seems to have been the better indicator in this case while the polling and polling comments were nothing more than fodder for Huck to use to stroke his ego.

  2. I lean towards "wasn't running." I agree with Josh that he really hadn't assembled any infrastructure, and many of his former staff had signed on elsewhere.

    Now, what we really can't know is when he made this decision (was he playing coy for 2 years while he considered it, or playing coy to get a show on Fox and make money?). And to me, that's a question that would shed light on the process.

  3. Oh, noes! Now the Donald has been winnowed!

    There definitely seems to be an opening for someone promoting a flat-tax on birth certificate lobbyists.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?