The magic begins at 8 p.m. ET on Fox, although the announcement probably won’t come until the last 10 minutes of the show. Before the flood of “I DON’T CARE” comments begins below, let me assure you: You do care. You care if you’re a Palin fan because having Huck in the race will deny her some of the social conservative votes she needs to win. And you care if you’re a Pawlenty fan — or merely a Romney-hater who finds T-Paw an acceptable alternative — because his candidacy probably can’t survive a field that includes both Huckabee and Mitch Daniels. If Daniels jumps in, Pawlenty will have to tack right and reframe himself as the true social conservative option among the top tier. With Huckabee in too, he can’t do that; he’d have to reframe himself yet again from being the “Not Romney” in the race to the “Not Any Of Those Other Guys.” Is there enough of a demand for someone like that among primary voters to beat the competition in either Iowa or New Hampshire? I’m skeptical. All of which is to say, in the words of Joe Biden, Huckabee’s decision is a big effing deal, even if you’d never vote for him. (Especially if you’d never vote for him.)

If you’re one of the three people who hasn’t yet seen the e-mail he sent to his inner circle last night, here’s the money bit:

Tomorrow night (Saturday) I will announce the next step in my plans for 2012 during my show on the Fox News Channel. I would like to be able to call you or email you personally and in advance of the announcement, but due to the fact that the decision was not finalized until today and that I committed to Fox that I will absolutely not release it prior to doing so on the channel, that became impractical…

I will look forward to speaking with you soon and once I fulfill my sworn obligation to Fox, I will be free to discuss things that I can’t now due to promises to them and to some possible legal considerations of the announcement.

Many friends have said, “how can we help you in the decision?” My answer has consistently been, “Pray that I have clarity.” I have it and will share it Saturday night during the show. Please be patient if I don’t respond immediately to an email because I expect that once I pull the trigger Saturday night, things will get even crazier, as if that’s possible.

So there’s the possible/likely explanation of why he suddenly went quiet on his advisors over the past week. He decided a few days ago to run and knew that if it leaked out before he announced, Fox would have to yank him off the air before he did his final show. So he kept his own counsel, even vis-a-vis people like Ed Rollins, in order to give himself a proper TV send-off. Another possibility is that he’s not running but leaked the e-mail with the head-fake teaser about “pulling the trigger” because he’s a ratings whore who wanted to sucker people into watching tonight. Which, admittedly, would be funny. Imagine if, as the clock struck 8:59, he turned to the camera and said, “Nope.” And then announced that he’ll be back with a brand new show next week featuring Jon Voight and Toby Keith or whoever. Hilarious — but mean.

Some of you may be thinking, “If Palin had turned her presidential decision into some hour-long LeBron-ish TV melodrama, wouldn’t the press be destroying her over it?” Answer: Indeed. Huck’s gotten off verrrry easy — so far. But even some of his advisors are getting nervous about the fallout:

One source said the email appeared to have gone to roughly 10 people. Yet while it sparked widespread intrigue among political watchers, several sources close to Huckabee still remained unconvinced he will run again for the presidency, citing his approach to making a decision.

Others privately expressed concern that, if Huckabee does run, his approach so far has had an overly theatrical quality that hasn’t screamed “presidential” and has been comparable to the way developer Donald Trump has gone about his potential candidacy…

[Former South Carolina Gov. David] Beasley added that if Huckabee does run, “I’ve got some questions – (like) why did you take this route??”

So … I don’t know. Maybe he’ll announce that he’s not running after all, with the “craziness” in the e-mail a reference to the surge of reaction to his decision that he’ll have to deal with in the coming days. Friends and advisors will want to talk him out of it, media outlets will want to ask him questions, and of course the rest of the field (minus Romney) will be reaching out to him for an endorsement. The one thing I can’t figure out is why, if he’s running, he didn’t wait for Daniels to make up his mind first. Mitch the Knife getting in arguably makes things easier for Huck because Daniels will draw votes from centrist candidates like Mitt and Pawlenty. The more moderates in the field there are to divvy up the pool of RINO support, the better Huck’s chances of winning primaries with 35 percent of the vote via the social conservative base. Instead, he’s — apparently — jumping in before we know for sure what the Hoosier Hamlet is doing. Why not wait two more weeks, by which time Daniels will have decided, and then make a fully informed choice?

Or maybe, per NRO’s Katrina Trinko, he’s simply planning to announce that he’s taking his talents to the 5 p.m. weekday time slot once Beck departs. Suspense. While we wait, here’s a sneak preview of reaction in Iowa social-con households tonight if Huck decides to pass. The thread is open.

Update: Next year, Huckabee will not be taking his talents to Des Moines. Stand by for video.

Update: That was fast. Just arrived in my inbox, from Jon Huntsman’s campaign:

“Our country has been very fortunate to have Mike Huckabee as a leader and public servant. His commitment to this country and its core values — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — is a model to which all elected officials should aspire. It is unfortunate that we will not have his voice — or his bass guitar — in the presidential debate, as our party would have benefited from his involvement. Yet I’m confident that he will continue to be a positive force in the national conversation no matter his future endeavors and I look forward to his continued friendship.”

Huntsman and Huckabee had dinner recently. Needless to say, an endorsement from one of the GOP’s most prominent social cons would help Huntsman win over base voters concerned about his religion.

Update: Via Mediaite, here’s the video. I think we all had an inkling that he was leaning “no” when he prefaced this by, um, jamming with Ted Nugent.