Ed Rollins, the famed GOP campaign architect who helped Ronald Reagan win reelection in 1984, thought Mike Huckabee was his second trip to the White House this year and is angry the Fox TV host bailed on a chance to run and win.
Rollins, who also worked for Rep. Michele Bachmann, said that he expected the Republican race to come down to a war between Huckabee and Mitt Romney.
"It would have been mano-a-mano. And I had it all strategized," said Rollins.
And when Huckabee changed gears and decided not to run, Rollins said he was angry because he felt the former Arkansas governor would win and because he wanted another shot at winning the Kentucky Derby of politics.
"That was my game and I'd spent two years thinking about it. You know but, as I said to him, I can't want it more than you want it," Rollins said on a podcast for WNYC's Here's The Thing With Alec Baldwin.
Like Rollins, a lot of Republican operatives expected Huckabee to run. Not only was he the runner-up in 2008 to Sen. John McCain, he has strong name identification and a loyal following. He is also seen as much more conservative than Romney, a role now being filled by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Rollins was probably more surprised than most when Huckabee rejected a second campaign because he had run his 2008 bid and was working up a winning strategy for 2012. "I had run his campaign four years ago. And I thought I had a real shot at it. And so, I spent six, eight months with him, trying to get a real campaign together for him, unlike the one we had last time."
When it ended, he eventually shifted his campaign strategy to Bachmann, who sought his help. But he said that Bachmann wasn't the perfect candidate.
"I didn't have a good first initial reaction to her," he told Baldwin. "A little high strung."
But he did later go to work for Bachmann and it went well with the conservative winning the Iowa Straw poll. At that point, however, the relationship broke down.
Rollins said that Bachmann started to look at also focusing on other primary and caucus states, but he wanted her to stay in Iowa, reasoning that a caucus win there in January 2012 would cement her as Romney's biggest foe.
"And at the end of the day what I kept trying to tell her [was] your ticket out is Iowa. Romney's the frontrunner, at that point in time, and there'll be a chaser. And the chaser will come out of Iowa or normally New Hampshire but Romney's going win in New Hampshire. So the only place for you to get your ticket out, sort of like the Final 64 of Basketball. No matter how great your team, you got to win every week. And Iowa's the first week," he said in the podcast.
Rollins also said that Bachmann has had trouble getting beyond applause lines to policy ideas people want to vote for. "What I said to her early on is, 'Okay, everybody in this race is against Obama, okay? So saying you're against Obama, against Obamacare, all the rest, it's all fine, well and good, except it doesn't move you forward."
He advised offering solutions. "What you have to say is, I want to abolish Obamacare and here's what I want to put in its place," said Rollins. "And I could never get to that hurdle. She liked the applause lines, the Tea Party type stuff. And, and I think part of it was she just wasn't—and we threw the campaign together very quickly. These things take a year of preparation."