Sarah Palin: Mike Huckabee’s Biggest Nightmare

Last week, we were noting with amazement how Sarah Palin went from complete unknown to de facto leader of the right-wing movement in a matter of weeks:

Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly, conservative cause prompter Richard Viguerie and Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich – all considered movement founders – each gave The Times the same two-word answer to the question about the emerging leader of the right: “Sarah Palin.”

“None of the above names – Romney, Gingrich, Huckabee, DeLay – will be the conservative movement’s leader in the coming years,” Mr. Viguerie said. “Governor Palin’s VP nomination is huge. It changes conservative, Republican and American politics for the next 20 years.”

Of course, this raises an interesting prospect for what happens to Mike Huckabee in 2012 if John McCain loses this year:  

The former Arkansas governor emerged as one of Palin’s most vocal defenders when he spoke shortly before she took the stage at the Republican National Convention earlier this month.

But depending on how this election shapes up, they could end up political rivals for a future presidential bid with narratives that overlap and appeal to the same constituency.

“I think in a lot of ways, they’re pretty similar figures,” said Jay Barth, a political scientist at Hendrix College in Conway. “Their kind of personal style has some similarities to it. I think she really does cut into his turf significantly.”

Palin’s pick as John McCain’s running mate energized evangelicals, especially those who had been worried that he would choose a running mate who would support abortion rights. She’s also sided with the majority evangelical view in opposing gay marriage and expressing a desire to see creationism discussed alongside evolution in schools.

Those positions cut into Huckabee’s base of support among evangelicals, who were attracted to the Southern Baptist minister for his conservative stance on social issues. And, with a quick wit, Huckabee was able to make up for the lack of name recognition with an ability to grab the limelight.

But Palin—who’s selling herself as a “hockey mom” who hunts moose—is now dominating that limelight. If McCain loses in November, she could become the next in line for the GOP.

Back when he was running for the nomination, Huckabee saw Mitt Romney as the biggest threat to his efforts to secure his position as the Right’s favorite candidate and was absolutely merciless in attacking him, and while he might be willing to take a back seat to Palin at the moment in order to help John McCain’s campaign, he probably won’t be so deferential down the line if he finds himself in a face-to-face showdown with Palin for the Right’s support.