Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
Is there a mole in Huckabee HQ?
How else to explain two bizarre last-minute decisions of Mike Huckabee's campaign. First, the former Arkansas governor held a near-meltdown of a press conference on Monday, during which he decried negative campaigning but then played for the assembled camera crews the anti-Romney ad he had commissioned and had decided not to use. Then on Wednesday, Huckabee was scheduled to leave frosty Iowa--the day before the caucuses--for sunny L.A. to appear on the Jay Leno show. So he was trading a day of campaigning in the Hawkeye State for several minutes of chuckles on a national television show that probably is not watched by many of his potential voters, older social conservatives (unless these Iowans have a secret lust for Paris Hilton jokes). Huckabee certainly could reach more caucus-goers by working the Iowa media. And Iowan voters, as you know, expect to be treated like royalty by the candidates. Spurning them for laughs with Leno is not a show of respect. It looked as if Huckabee was more concerned with me-time than kneeling before Iowans--a true sin in presidential politics.
It practically seems that someone calling the shots in the Huckabee command is trying to sabotage his almost-a-miracle campaign. Whom might that be? Well, longtime readers of mine know that I am usually quite skeptical of conspiracy theorizing. But in this case, let me suggest a culprit: Ed Rollins. The veteran Republican strategist and operative recently signed on as Huckabee's campaign chairman. Rollins, who ran Ronald Reagan's wildly successful reelection campaign in 1984, has had a bumpy relationship with the GOP establishment. He worked for Ross Perot (as opposed to President George H.W. Bush) in 1992. But he has usually been a loyal GOPer. In the 1990 election, he ran the National Republican Congressional Committee. In 1993, he was campaign manager for Republican Christine Todd Whitman's successful gubernatorial effort in New Jersey. The following year, he helped Republican George Nethercutt, a Republican, unseat Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley. And he has assisted several Republicans since then.
It's been pretty clear--even if you don't read the National Review and watch Fox News--that the GOP elite is not keen on Huckabee ending up as the Republican nominee. So could Rollins be a double-agent? A plant of the GOP high-and-mighty, which would be delighted to see Huckabee crash and burn? Rollins does have a rep as an underhanded operative. After the Whitman race, he disclosed that he had had secretly paid black ministers and Democratic campaign workers in New Jersey to suppress the black vote. (He then partially retracted the remark, saying the comment was "an exaggeration that turned out to be inaccurate.") And in a 1996 book, Rollins claimed that he had learned (after the fact) about an illegal $10 million contribution to Reagan's 1984 campaign from Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, but Rollin has refused to disclose details about this supposed crime.
So is it possible that Rollins is the GOP's Man in Huckabee Land? That may be fanciful speculation on my part. (Few high-profile strategists would want to be seen losing a campaign.) But the only other explanation is that after years of skillful politicking, Rollins has lost his game and gone stupid. Can you believe that?