If you are just analyzing the 2016 presidential race, Bob Vander Plaats’ endorsement of Cruz makes plenty of sense. Yet having witnessed Vander Plaats’ 15-year political career, it’s safe to say that he would not be the “kingmaker” he is today without Mike Huckabee.
Vander Plaats didn’t just endorse Huckabee in 2008, he was part of the campaign from day one. He lived through April and May of 2007 when the buzz around Huckabee was that he should drop out and run for the U.S. Senate. Huckabee’s campaign was the last campaign to agree to participate in the Iowa Straw Poll. They feared the event would end the campaign, but instead, it rejuvenated it.
In 2007, Vander Plaats was a two-time loser. He had failed to win the Republican nomination for governor in 2002 and 2006. In 2006, Vander Plaats ended his primary campaign to join Jim Nussle on the ballot as the Lt. Governor nominee. The general election that year was brutal for Republicans.
There wasn’t much fanfare about Vander Plaats being Huckabee’s point man in Iowa, but as Huckabee surged in the months before the caucus, Vander Plaats got plenty of time in the spotlight.
Huckabee’s big Iowa win invigorated his supporters, and rightfully so. Socially conservative candidates like Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson had done well in Iowa, but they had never won. Huckabee didn’t just win, he trounced Romney, winning by almost 10,000 votes.
By the end of the caucus campaign, Huckabee was hinting around that Bob would make a great governor. And after the 2008 election, it was clear that Vander Plaats was eyeing another run. The Iowa Supreme Court’s decision to allow gay marriage in the state only cemented his decision to run.
Vander Plaats utilized Huckabee as a fundraising draw for his campaign in June of 2009 and February 2010, and even helped put together a fundraiser at Chuck Norris’ ranch in Texas. After another unsuccessful primary attempt, Vander Plaats transitioned to his current role with the FAMiLY Leader, and once again, Mike Huckabee was there to headline major fundraising events. Loyalty is a rare thing in politics, but over the past eight years, Huckabee proved to be incredibly loyal to Vander Plaats.
It’s hard to imagine Vander Plaats occupying the space he does today without the involvement of Huckabee. It’s not that Huckabee went into his 2016 race thinking he had Vander Plaats in his corner, but seeing him endorse a candidate based on poll numbers and financial resources has to hurt, especially since Huckabee runs circles around Cruz on the issues that matter the most to Vander Plaats, namely the out of control courts and personhood.