LYNCHBURG, VA. -- Over the past two days, Mike Huckabee has been using the example of Ronald Reagan's persistence in competing in the 1976 race for the Republican nomination as a reason for staying in.
"There are a lot of people that were not electable until they were elected and then they were invincible," Huckabee told reporters today. "Ronald Reagan was unelectable ... The establishment couldn't stand [Reagan], they were still mad at him for running against an incumbent president in 1976, they had all begged him to get out of the race in '76 and not take it to the convention, but he had convictions, and he stood by those convictions."
"And now when you talk to Republicans, the Reagan name is the gold standard," he said.
But the Republicans lost in 1976 and some blame Reagan for undermining the party's viability that year. A reporter pointed this out, to which Huckabee responded: "Here's why they lost: they elected a person who did not really energize the conservative base of the Republican Party."
"Gerald Ford was a great man, and I'm not taking anything from him and I have great admiration and I think he served a very important place in American history," Huckabee continued. "He brought healing to the country when it needed to be because we all went through the horrors of Watergate and the Nixon resignation and the terrible time in our nation. And, Democrat or Republican, people can be very grateful to the calm manner and the humanness Gerald Ford brought to the White House."
"But by anybody's definition – most all of his own – he never championed himself as a conservative, not a pro-life person for whom that was important. He was a really nice, moderate Republican. A true gentleman but a member of Congress, more a part of the Washington Republican establishment than representing the grassroots of Conservatism. And people can say, 'well, we lost that year,' and, yes, we did. And I would argue that if we do not have a candidate who can excite the base of this country, and particularly the base of our party and make them want to be energetic and going out and getting folks to put the yard signs in and making phone calls and traveling all over the country asking people to vote, we can lose again."