"Are Mike Huckabee's days as a presidential contender over? Is he Hucka-was?" Chris Matthews asked on Hardball last night. His guest, Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, answered in the affirmative. "Mike Huckabee probably has a great future on Fox News or as a motivational speaker," McKinnon said, "but his career in politics is done. Stick a fork in him." They're not alone. David Keating, the executive director of the Club for Growth, says, “I think the news from Seattle is a huge blow to his presidential chances." Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily wrote that Huckabee's "odds of success [in 2012] are suddenly slim to none." The list of pundits, bloggers, and Republican operatives agreeing that Huckabee's presidential hopes have been dashed goes on and on.
If you haven't been keeping up on your grisly murder news, all this Hucka-doubting began last week after Maurice Clemmons, an ex-convict whose 108-year prison sentence for various burglary convictions was commuted by Mike Huckabee when he was governor of Arkansas nine years ago, killed four Seattle police officers in cold blood. But, despite the blame being heaped upon Huckabee, Clemmons's clemency request was supported by a county circuit judge, and his parole was unanimously approved by a parole board. It also goes without saying that nobody would have supported letting him out of prison if they thought he would have a mental breakdown nine years later and commit murder. Furthermore, Clemmons has been back in jail repeatedly since his initial release, only to be set free again and again for various reasons unrelated to Huckabee.
Which isn't to say that Huckabee's connection to Clemmons doesn't look bad, especially for a politician already famous for giving too many convicts a second chance. For law-and-order types in the Republican Party, it's possible he may no longer be a viable choice, if he ever was to begin with. Huckabee has been a top contender in 2012 polls so far (sometimes even the top contender), but he's questioned whether he'll have the deep well of support and financial backing needed for a serious chance at winning the nomination. So maybe he won't run (he told the View ladies today that he'll decide after the 2010 midterm elections), or maybe he'll run and lose, but we don't think it'll be because of Clemmons. The political press may not see it that way, but they have a habit of greatly exaggerating the lasting effects of whatever "scandal" happens to be captivating their attention at a given time.
As an example of this phenomenon, take Sarah Palin's mavericky resignation as governor of Alaska this past July. At the time, many commentators stuck a fork in her presidential aspirations, as they're doing to Huckabee now. The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne called it "a career ender," Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall declared, "She's done," and Hot Air's Ed Morrissey said it was "the end of any hope of Palin getting taken seriously as a politician on the national level in the future." And yet Palin soon emerged as probably the most popular figure in the GOP and a top candidate for the 2012 nomination, according to recent polls. Back from the dead before we even had a chance to mourn.
We're still over a year away from when the earliest campaigning for the 2012 nomination begins, and by that time, this Clemmons incident won't seem nearly the deal-breaker that it does to some people right now. Voters' memories are famously short, and there are going to be plenty of more important issues at stake in the campaign for the Republican nomination. If GOP voters can forgive Palin's many flaws, surely Huckabee has a decent shot at clemency as well.