As the race for the Republican presidential nomination began in earnest, 17 competitors made up the largest-ever major-party field. In the wake of Lindsey Graham’s recent departure, the GOP field now stands at 13 candidates, and the parlor game in some circles is trying to determine who’ll be the next would-be president to call it quits.
Mike Huckabee seems like a fairly obvious choice. The former Arkansas governor has been an afterthought in the Republican race for months, and facing weak poll support and anemic fundraising, Huckabee recently saw his top communications aide leave his team. Soon after, the campaign slashed the salaries of senior staffers.
So, is Huckabee ready to exit stage right? As of two weeks ago, his campaign manager – who also happens to be his daughter – conceded to Politico, “Obviously, if we go to Iowa and lose – well frankly we probably won’t keep going.” Sarah Huckabee Sanders added that everything would change if the campaign can “go and pull out a win in Iowa.”
More recently, however, Huckabee himself moved the goalposts a little.
The former governor of Arkansas – who’s been a longshot candidate relegated to the undercard primary debates during the 2016 presidential campaign – told Iowa radio host Simon Conway on Wednesday night, “If we can’t come within striking distance of the victory or win it, then I think we recognize that it’s going to be hard to take that onto the other states.”
And what’s “striking distance”? The Arkansan added that he believes “there are three tickets out of Iowa, you have to come in number one, two or three.”
Notice the shift? Two weeks ago, Huckabee would be inclined to walk away if he didn’t “win” the Iowa caucuses, as he did in 2008. Last week, the threshold was lowered a bit to finishing in the top three.
Given that Huckbaee is currently in ninth place in Iowa, his odds of meeting his own threshold are poor. Unless the former pastor and former Fox host is prepared to stretch the definition of “striking distance” to new limits, his candidacy will probably end in about 34 days.
But if Huckabee’s rhetoric is to be taken at face value, he probably won’t quit before Feb. 1.