To follow up on my earlier post on Rudy Giuliani's travails, I was thinking about the ways Mike Huckabee's rise may have hurt America's Mayor even more than it's hurt Mitt Romney. First, and most obviously, the Huckabee surge has knocked Giuliani out of his long-uncontested first place in national polls (a status that was crucial to his cruise-until-Florida strategy) and will presumably knock him back one spot in the early states. (A third-place finish looks considerably worse than a second-place one, and fourth looks worse than third.)
But Huckabee has also created a far greater level of urgency on the part of the GOP establishment to consolidate support behind a single candidate. Before Huckabee took off, the idea of a divided Republican field that lasted into February wasn't particularly worrisome. But the establishment hates Huckabee for a variety of reasons (he's "soft" on taxes, looks like a disastrous general-election candidate, etc.), and will want to annoint an anti-Huckabee as quickly as possible, especially if he wins Iowa and continues to surge elsewhere. My guess is that this establishment alternative will be either Mitt Romney (more likely) or John McCain (less likely), depending how New Hampshire turns out, though I suppose Fred Thompson is a distant possibility if he manages a strong third-place showing in Iowa and gets some momentum heading into South Carolina. But I sincerely doubt that the anti-Huckabee vote is going to wait around long enough to coalesce behind Giuliani, with his late-January-to-early-February timetable. On top of that, if you're trying to sap Huckabee's support, you probably don't want to get behind a pro-choice candidate, which is somewhat akin to poking in the eye the very social conservatives you're trying to coax back into the establishment fold.