A long, long, long ways back I took a look at the Republican field and decided that Mike Huckabee was going to win. Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney nor Rudy Giuliani seemed like plausible Republican nominees. Huckabee, by contrast, was a pro-life conservative Protestant governor -- seemingly exactly the sort of person a committed Republican would vote for. His problem, I thought, was obviously a lack of name recognition, but he'd be a classic beneficiary of the somewhat goofy primary system. It's easy enough to become well-known in Iowa, the voters there would like him, and his strong performance in Iowa would get him press as the plain-vanilla conservative Republican candidate.
And now, following his strong performance in the Iowa Straw Poll, it seems to be happening, with Huckabee's numbers taking noticeable leaps in early primary voting. Mitt Romney's been holding the edge in most of these states (Giuliani leads national polls and the further out states with the worse-informed voters) but one can imagine a vulnerability here. If you're backing Romney on the grounds that he's the real conservative, then you realize there's a governor in the race who's not a Mormon and wasn't pro-choice until the day before yesterday, then Mighty Morphin' Mitt starts looking less appealing.
But then again, I read Jon Chait's book, The Big Con recently, so I have my doubts. Huckabee, as you can see from his recent endorsement by the Machinists Union, has sometimes dissented from conservative economic policy orthodox. He even raised taxes based on some kind of lunatic belief that the provision of public services requires revenue. And you just can't have that. Which perhaps explains why when there was a perceived need for a candidate with more solid conservative credentials than McCain, Romney, or Giuliani can muster, people went out and recruitment Fred Thompson rather than getting behind the culturally conservative southerner who was already in the race.
Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.