Byron York argues that Huckabee runs the risk of diminishing the political capital he has accumulated if he stays in too long. The McCain campaign has to be weary of embarrassing results among constituencies he is supposed to consolidate into his coalition.
Of course, at the moment Huckabee is the vehicle for anyone displeased with McCain as the GOP nominee, which doesn’t mean that all those who vote for him actually like him, only that they dislike the Arizona Senator more.
I’m inclined to say that, for conservatives, McCain’s discomfiture is a good thing, assuming that he makes some (more) gestures in their direction. But it’s worth recalling that the necessarily public nature of this discomfiture and the presumably ensuing attempt at conciliation offers folks in the press opportunities to write stories that might harm McCain’s subsequent efforts to build a winning coalition in the general election. It would have been better for the outreach to have been conducted under the radar, so to speak. If McCain is in fact an honorable man, even quiet promises ought to have been sufficient.
The other possibility, of course, is that the publicity drives McCain in the other direction, so that he won’t do what he needs to do to consolidate his base until after Huckabee is out. The more time passes, the harder conciliation might become and the more newsworthy it is when the attempt does come. This complicates further McCain’s efforts in the fall.
For me, the bottom line is this. McCain must by now have received any message he’s going to receive through the primary process. He knows that there are constituencies in the GOP that are unhappy. He knows he needs their votes, their work, and their money to win the general election. But he also needs the votes of independents and moderates. A quiet rapprochement with conservatives serves everyone’s interests better than a loud, public one. Assuming, as I said, that McCain is an honorable man, the only thing that publicity accomplishes is embarrassing him and making his path to election more complicated. Even if Mike Huckabee doesn’t get out, it’s time for conservatives to register their discontent in other ways than in the polling booth.