The Iowa caucuses do not really tell us much about any of the candidate’s chances at the nomination. Mitt Romney could easily come roaring back from his defeat by winning New Hampshire. Fred Thompson could pick up some momentum from disaffected conservatives. Hillary Clinton may follow her husband's 1992 example and win the nomination by taking the later states. Anything could happen, and the Iowa results are inconclusive.
The exception to this rule is Mike Huckabee. He is clearly for real. In a state where he has been outspent 20 to 1, he crushed Mitt Romney by nine points. And the schedule of the early primary states is on his side. He will lose New Hampshire, but is very competitive in Michigan and South Carolina. He will be even more competitive in those states if Mitt Romney loses New Hampshire, as it appears likely he will.
While Huckabee is no conservative, it's hard to blame Iowan's for voting for him. Iowa, basically, was a two man contest. Mitt Romney doesn't excite anyone, and with good reason. He has won exactly one major election, has converted to conservative principles suspiciously conveniently, and has hardly been forthcoming regarding his position on the issues of immigration and gun control. (He supported amnesty before he was against it, and still supports the Brady Bill and assault weapon bans. Somehow, he has never gotten around to mentioning these viewpoints).
But even more than his ideological transgressions, Romney doesn't seem to know what he stands for. His campaign has been meticulously planned to the last detail- take conservative positions, have solid debate performances, win early and build momentum. That is a good plan- but there is no passion, no vision there.
Huckabee, on the other hand, is filled with passion. You might not like where he stands, but he does, and will fight to the death for his positions. He clearly stands for something. Granted, that something is a Carter-like populism, but at least he really, sincerely believes in it.
Even if Huckabee believes in his ideology, however, it does not change the fact that his nomination would be a disaster for the Republicans. Most conservatives are aware of his fondness for tax hikes, his weak (although no weaker than Giuliani’s) immigration record, and his history of controversial pardons. (If you aren't, just go to National Review Online, where it seems that every third article bashes Huckabee). If (or when) Huckabee is nominated, the Republican Party will be in serious trouble.
However, they will have no one to blame but themselves. In recent years, the GOP has not stood up for conservative principles. They have embraced high spending and illegal immigration, and have fielded a shockingly weak field of candidates. They deserve whatever happens to them.
The only silver linings to the Huckabee cloud are the facts that his liberalism has been exaggerated, and that he probably could beat Hillary in the general election.
Huckabee’s governing record is clearly liberal. However, at least his current, stated policy positions are conservative. Of course, sometimes they are impractical (the FairTax), but they are conservative. That is something that Rudy Giuliani and John McCain can’t say.
That may be little comfort given his tendency to drift left when in office, but it is something to give hope. (A little hope. It’s the lining that is silver, not the whole cloud).
The other advantage of a Huckabee campaign is his likeability, especially when contrasted to Hillary Clinton. Quite often, the more likable candidate wins. In such a contest with Hillary, Mike Huckabee wins easily.
Of course, conservatives should hope Huckabee doesn’t win, as the above benefits don’t counterbalance Huckabee’s weaknesses. The problem is: in this lame field, who is the conservative?