In a semi-shocking announcement on Saturday, Fox News Channel host and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee revealed that he was walking away from his cable news hosting job. As part of that announcement, he disclosed that he would be forming a presidential exploratory committee to determine whether there is a market for his brand of Republican populism in the increasingly crowded 2016 field. So, unless he backs off of a run after mounting this investigation, Huckabee is in.
“As much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run,” Huckabee told his audience on the final episode of Fox News Channel’s Huckabee. “Oh, to be clear, I’m not making that announcement right now.”
“I won’t make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that is not fair to them,” Huckabee wrote in a letter to supporters Saturday evening released before his show started airing.
“The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox so I can openly talk with potential donors and supporters and gauge support,” he added.
With Huckabee’s entrance into the field of 2016 Republican candidates, he becomes one of just four GOP figures who have taken concrete steps to mount a campaign. Huckabee joins Jeb Bush in revealing his intention to form an exploratory committee. Reports have indicated that former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina is staffing up ahead of a likely campaign. Pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson disclosed his intention to announce his decision on whether to run in the spring, and figures close to him have indicated to reporters that he is likely to run.
It’s not going out too far on a limb here to say that, of the many competent and capable 2016 prospects in the Republican Party, the above field of presidential aspirants is underwhelming. Bush seems to be running for the GOP nomination by applying the Huntsman model to the project; displaying contempt for the concerns of the party’s base while simultaneously seeking their support. Fiorina has never held elected office, and Carson has never even run a campaign. And Huckabee, while an accomplished governor who can work a room like nobody else, has a penchant for making impolitic comments that would doom him in the general election.
Now consider the talent on the GOP bench of potential 2016 prospects who have not yet committed to a bid. From governors like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, to Indiana’s Mike Pence, to Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, to Texas’s Rick Perry, to New Jersey’s Chris Christie and Senators including Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and Rand Paul (R-KY) – not to mention the former Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) – the abundances of aptitude and vigor in this cast should make any Democrat nervous.
It is understandable that many who hoped to see GOP officeholders who reflect the changes the party has undergone in the Obama era make a run at the Oval Office, but that is not to say that the Republicans who are committing to early announcements are either unqualified or embarrassing for the party they seek to represent. Bush is a two-term governor of one of America’s most populous and diverse states. Fiorina ran a statewide campaign for federal office in California and has commanded one of America’s largest enterprises. Carson is a brilliant surgeon, a role model for millions, and a man of faith and conviction. Huckabee may be the most personable figure of any of the potential 2016 presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican, and someone who mastered populism well before America entered a populist era.
The likelihood that the GOP field will include figures who mock the names of America’s strategically vital Central Asian partners or lend credence to the notion that certain vaccines are a cause of “mental retardation,” two lamentable elements of the 2012 GOP primary campaign, are quite low.
That, too, should concern Democrats.
You will hear quite a bit of bravado out of liberal partisans about how the backbenchers who have entered the 2016 field are retreads, longshots, or even time bombs. Don’t let the bluster fool you. 2016 is already shaping up to be a much stronger year for the GOP. Even before the candidates many consider top contenders have climbed into the ring, the Republican field already appears far more formidable than it did in 2012.