Noah wrote a bit about a looming Huckabee candidacy last week but scaring the hell out of our readers with prospects of President Huck is, was, and forever shall be my beat.
The thinking four years ago was that he declined to run because he had plenty of time and wanted to make a little dough for once in his life. He’s done that now and he’s not getting any younger. If he passes again and a different Republican gets elected president, he’ll be nearly 70 by the time he’s able to run again.
So be afraid. Be very afraid.
One obvious sign is that Huckabee is talking about world affairs. Back in 2007, when he first ran for the GOP nomination, he became frustrated when debates focused on the war in Iraq. “Do you realize that in four debates we never had a single question on education?” he once complained.
On Monday, though, Huckabee opened his discussion with foreign policy. He has just returned from a trip to Israel — his third this year…
The conversation wasn’t a tour d’horizon of foreign policy, but it was clear Huckabee has been studying up — for a former governor steeped in domestic policy, often a sign of an impending run. Huckabee said he regularly consults an informal circle of foreign policy advisers, “a host of people, both in the military as well as the intelligence community.”…
Huckabee has started a new organization, America Takes Action, and he’s calling around for money. He said it’s going well — “we very quickly are into seven figures” — with a good response from big donors. Huckabee also runs HuckPAC, which he uses to contribute to Republican candidates.
At the same meeting, he said Republican voters should be looking for someone with executive experience, i.e. a governor, who’s learned from necessity how to work with Democrats to move his policy agenda. (The Arkansas state legislature was heavily Democratic when Huckabee took office.) You can see the nucleus of his strategy against the rest of the field in that. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have never been executives; Scott Walker and Chris Christie have, but they’re known mainly for alienating Democrats, not steering them around towards Republican priorities. (Christie would dispute that vehemently.) Ted Cruz has both problems. For good measure, Huckabee tossed in a warning about the perils of isolationism while chatting with reporters, another point of attack he’ll use on Paul.
What he’s doing here, obviously, by emphasizing foreign policy is trying to escape his niche as the “social conservative candidate,” a guy capable of winning Iowa but destined to be an also-ran in primary electorates with fewer evangelicals. And I think he’s anticipating that his main competition for the nomination is Paul, which kinda sorta makes sense. Huckabee’s DOA if he loses in Iowa, but if he wins — and he’s won before — he might get enough of a boost pollwise to elbow aside the other hawkish social conservatives in the field like Rubio and Cruz. Then, if Paul wins New Hampshire, the next primary in South Carolina will be seen as largely a Huckabee versus Paul showdown for the status of presumptive nominee. Huck will take those odds: There are plenty of Christian conservatives in SC too, and the hawks among GOP voters will be so terrified at the thought of Rand winning that they’ll hold their nose and side with Huck. (What about the GOP’s donor class, though? Do they break for the dovish but sternly anti-regulation Paul or a hawkish candidate like Huck who might be more tolerant of restrictions on business?) If he wins in South Carolina too then it’s on to Florida where —
Wait a sec. How likely is that scenario, really? If Huckabee won Iowa and Paul won New Hampshire, there’d be a mad scramble among hawkish mainstream conservatives to line up behind one of the other candidates in the field before South Carolina, no? My guess is they’d want to back Rubio because on paper he seems more electable than Cruz, but I’m thinking that Cruz is apt to be more viable at that point than Rubio is. Cruz will likely finish well in Iowa because of social conservative support and might blow up Huckabee’s campaign by winning outright; come South Carolina, he’d therefore be the obvious choice for an “anyone but Huck” movement among socially conservative hawks. If Cruz doesn’t run for whatever reason then Rubio or Scott Walker would probably become the default “anyone but Huck.” There’s just no way, given how each man alienates certain factions of the mainstream conservative base, that we end up with a binary “Huckabee versus Paul” choice unless and until it’s fairly late in the race. And even then, I’d bet there’d be a groundswell among Republican establishmentarians to draft Jeb Bush or — gasp — Mitt Romney as a white-knight late entrant.
Best-case scenario for Huck, then: Cruz doesn’t run and so he ends up winning Iowa narrowly, then fades in New Hampshire and comes back to win a squeaker in South Carolina. At which point powerful forces and voters conspire against him and some third option wins Florida and ultimately the nomination.