Lots of interesting stuff in this investigation by McKay Coppins of Buzzfeed into Donald Trump’s courtship of Mike Huckabee, including speculation that Huckabee believes he has the inside track on a VP nod.
You may recall that Trump came to Little Rock a few days after the Iowa caucuses. When Huckabee dropped out of the race, many wondered whether he would endorse Trump in Little Rock. The Huckabee camp said no, but apparently he came close to at least making an appearance:
It was the day after February’s Iowa caucuses, and Huckabee had just dropped out of the race. He planned to make a quick stop in Little Rock, Arkansas, to drop off his daughter and her family before heading home to Florida. But then a weather-related flight delay left Huckabee with an extra night in Arkansas — and as it happened, Trump was coming to town the next day for a rally. The late addition of the Little Rock event to Trump’s schedule had already uncorked speculation about a potential Huckabee endorsement, and his spokesman Hogan Gidley had moved swiftly to quash the rumors, telling reporters he was “not even thinking about” backing another candidate. But The Donald was undeterred. According to two people close to Huckabee, Trump tried to lure the former governor to the event by promising he wouldn’t have to formally endorse — he could simply stop by and, if he felt so inspired, say a few words about the issues they both cared about so deeply.
Huckabee was tempted, but Gidley reminded him that he had just emphatically ruled out an endorsement to the press: To show up at a Trump rally now would make liars out of them both, he argued. Huckabee’s other advisers were similarly adamant that he skip the event, and ultimately they prevailed. After a quiet night at home with his grandkids, Huckabee hopped the first flight out of town the next morning — but his love affair with Trump lives on.
Huckabee’s daughter, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently went to work for the Trump campaign. Coppins reports that the connection followed a long effort by Trump to court Huckabee:
When news of her hire first broke, many conservative Christians were appalled, but it came as little surprise to those who have watched Trump woo the former Baptist minister over the years. Of all the strange bedfellows brought together by this year’s election, few would seem stranger at first glance than the Baptist and the boorish billionaire. But according to a series of recent interviews with people who have firsthand knowledge of the dynamic, Trump has long courted the support of Huckabee and his family — and his success offers key insights into how the billionaire is now winning over vast swaths of the Republican Party.
Some other nuggets:
* The Trump campaign has floated the idea of Huckabee as a VP choice and made sure that the Huckster knew about it. Several sources close to Huckabee say that he believes he has a good chance to be tapped for the VP spot if Trump wins. Coppins reports: “One source even speculated that if Trump had lost South Carolina, he would have announced Huckabee as his running mate the next week to shore up support from evangelical voters.”
* Whether or not Huckabee gets the nod, Coppins argues, “what matters for Trump’s purposes is that Huckabee believes he’s in the running. Friends say the former governor still resents that John McCain’s campaign didn’t even bother to vet him in 2008, and grumbles privately that senior strategist Steve Schmidt didn’t give him a look because he thought he was a ‘hick.’ By contrast, this small show of respect from the Trump campaign has deepened Huckabee’s loyalty to him.”
* Sources close to Huckabee say that he knew by mid-December that his campaign probably wasn’t going anywhere but decided to use the last few weeks to try to highlight what he believed was the slimy hypocrisy of Ted Cruz.
* Buzzfeed: “Conservatives have floated conspiracy theories that Huckabee was acting as an undercover agent for Trump, on a mission to take out the billionaire’s main rival in Iowa.”
* A former Huckabee aide says that when Trump and Huckabee were goofing around before a Fox News interview in Iowa, Trump gave an “air kiss” to Huckabee.
* The reason Huckabee hasn’t endorsed Trump, according to Buzzfeed’s sources? That might complicate his hopes of getting a new contract with Fox News.
There’s also a lot of armchair psychology about Huckabee’s fascination as a child with a “worldly uncle,” his tendency to load up on perks as governor, and his anger at the snobbery of the upper-class world he revered. “[I]t should not come as a shock that he is easily dazzled by the billionaire’s attention,” Coppins writes.