Jim Geraghty takes issue with my post about Huckabee not being in the top tier, arguing “if high polls nationally are necessary to clear that bar, Mitt Romney’s not a top-tier candidate.” To be clear, I wasn’t trying to imply that high national poll numbers are the only measure of whether a candidate should be considered in the top tier. I also cited polls in the early states, and money. Romney may not be threatening Rudy or Fred in national polls at this point, but he is ahead in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he has raised a ton of money (if you include his personal wealth, he could be viewed as the money leader). So, Romney satisfies at least two of three possible criteria for being considered a top tier candidate, whereas Huckabee, for now, doesn’t satisfy any of them.
Geraghty goes on to argue that “Huckabee looks like he’s going to be the breakout candidate on the Republican side” a la Buchanan in 1996 and McCain in 2000. I’m not denying that this is a theoretical possibility; all I’m saying is that Huckabee’s performance in Ames in and of itself is not sufficient to earn him a place in the top tier, given the lack of additional empirical evidence to support such a claim. As for whether Huckabee can get the nomination, Geraghty writes that “The other four all have, to one extent or another, flaws that make the religious conservatives hesitate. If that faction of the party unites behind Huckabee, he’s got a heck of a lot of resources heading into the final matchup.”
This brings up another point that has been floating around my head in recent days. One possibility we have talked about is that if Huckabee emerges as a top tier candidate, it would hurt Romney by further splintering the social conservative vote. But there’s a way of looking at it that could theoretically help Romney. If a Giuliani vs. Huckabee battle turns into a battle between economic/foreign policy conservatives and populist/social conservatives, it may allow Romney, using his three-legged stool argument, to emerge as the compromise candidate who recognizes the importance of all wings of the party. Just like Goldilocks, Romney could argue that while one candidate is too socially liberal and another candidate is too economically liberal, he’s just right.
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