In the wake of Super Tuesday, Ramesh made some good points about the Huckabee-Romney dynamic:
There has been a bit of a debate about whether Huckabee has been "taking votes away" from Romney. Yesterday, I posted a few links suggesting that this is not the case. Huckabee's voters told exit pollsters that they fairly strongly preferred McCain to Romney. I think that's right. But I think it's also true that Huckabee did more than anyone else to take out Romney. After Huckabee beat Romney in Iowa—something nobody else in the field could have done—almost everything else had to go Romney's way for him to win. The odds were against that happening, particularly given Romney's own weaknesses as a candidate ...
Try to picture the race if Huckabee hadn't taken off. Romney would have won Iowa and probably Michigan. There would have been no bitter Huckabee-Romney feud, so his voters might not have preferred McCain over Romney as strongly as they did yesterday. Romney might have done better in the south and might have emerged as the conservative alternative in the primary. Maybe he could even have competed in South Carolina. We'll never know.
If Romney had not been in the race, however, I'm not sure Huckabee would have done much better, given his inability to reach beyond evangelicals. Even in some of the Southern states Huckabee won last night, he might have lost a two-man race to McCain.
I would only add this, though - that once Huckabee did take off, the conservative hatefest that his candidacy summoned up almost certainly hurt Romney's chances, rather than McCain's. Joshua Trevino makes this point in the context of the current landscape, in which Huckabee is the only possible rallying point for anti-McCain sentiment:
... the decision of the Romney campaign and the conservative media establishment to go nuclear against Huckabee in late December and early January redounds to McCain’s benefit. Having demonized Huckabee as a wholesale traitor to conservatism and decency — remember George Will comparing him to anti-Semites? — it is now tremendously difficult to sell the opposite line. From conservatism’s death knell to the conservatives’ last chance is a long road. The pity for Mitt Romney is that had his surrogates not done this, he would have stood an outstanding chance in a brokered convention forced by a Huckabee surge. Conclaves of party activists and caucuses are the two arenas in which he won handily again and again: were he in play at a national convention, there is no reason his superior political operation would not have triumphed.
I don't think the dynamic Trevino is discussing redounds to McCain's benefit now - even had they responded less vituperatively to his initial success, I can't imagine the movement establishment ever rallying around Huckabee - so much as it redounded to his benefit in the weeks between Iowa and Florida. Particularly given the ample evidence that many voters, in the South especially, were torn between Huck and McCain, it seems clear that a stronger Huckabee candidacy would have meant a weaker McCain candidacy, and a better chance for Mitt. Thus the conservative movement's scorched-earth attacks on Huck probably cost him South Carolina, which in turn helped cost Romney Florida, which in turn probably doomed him on Super Tuesday. Whereas had Huck taken a little less fire from the Right, we might still have a real three-way race on our hands, one that Romney could have plausibly won - either at the convention or before.
But instead, poor Ann Coulter is stuck rooting for Hillary.