Get excited: Huckabee building team for presidential run

Or is he? Joshua Green‘s headline for this splashy WaPo piece about Huck 2016 is “Mike Huckabee plots elaborate strategy to hawk new book.”

I think he’s serious. My theory on Huck is that he regrets passing on 2012 after seeing how well Santorum did against Romney pushing a similar blue-collar, socially conservative agenda. Huckabee’s a better communicator than Santorum; he might have made Romney sweat. Now he looks at the field, sees room for a candidate in that same blue-collar social-con niche, and suspects that Republican voters aren’t going to give Santorum (really just the last “Not Romney” standing in 2012) another serious look. He wanted to make money in media and now he’s done it at Fox. All he needs to do to be a credible VP candidate this time is win Iowa and/or South Carolina.

So it’s agreed then: Romney/Huckabee 2016.

Huckabee’s newly formed non-profit advocacy group, America Takes Action, has begun to serve as an employment perch for his political team, recently bringing on a number of experienced campaign operatives.

Advisers are already scouting real estate in Little Rock, Ark., for a possible presidential campaign headquarters.

Huckabee is scheduled to spend part of November holding private meetings with powerful GOP financiers in Las Vegas, New York, and California, gauging their interest in being bundlers for his possible campaign and asking for pledges of five-to six-figure donations to his aligned organizations. And he is planning two strategy sessions in December, in Little Rock and Destin, Fla., near his new Gulf Coast home, to discuss timing, potential staffing, and an opening pitch to voters…

Huckabee’s “heart is into it,” his daughter and political confidant Sarah Huckabee told The Washington Post in an interview Tuesday. “He is personally engaged and more aggressive in taking on meetings. He can’t wait to get back to South Carolina and Iowa.”

Yes, he has a book coming out in January — “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” which is the most Huckabee thing ever — but so does Marco Rubio. There’s no reason this time to think the Huck 2016 chatter is designed to sell the book rather than vice versa. Now, help me count: How many potential candidates are we looking at right now for the first GOP presidential primary debate next year? There’s Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Ben Carson, Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, probably Huckabee, possibly Santorum too, either John Kasich or Rob Portman, and either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio. Paul Ryan hasn’t said no definitively yet either. And if Jeb ends up passing on the race and Rubio falters as default establishment champion, there’s a chance Romney will get in late to rescue the party from the horrors of a non-establishment candidate winning the nomination. The raw numbers there aren’t much different from the last two cycles — there were 10 candidates onstage for the first GOP debate in 2007 and eight or nine onstage by the time Perry joined the race in 2011. What’s dramatically different is the quality. In 2007, only four of the 10 were strong-ish: McCain, Romney, Huckabee (an unknown at the time), and Rudy Giuliani by dint of name recognition alone, before he flamed out in the early states. Fred Thompson would later join the race, bringing the number to five. In 2011, the field of plausible nominees shrunk to three after Tim Pawlenty quit the race early — Romney, Perry, and Gingrich, and I think we’re pushing the bounds of plausibility with Newt there. Among this year’s group, I’d say there are fully nine plausibles potentially, 10 if you count both Bush and Rubio and 11 if you want to toss ol’ Mitt in the mix. It’ll be demolition derby, except with tanks this time instead of Ford Pintos. As much as you may dislike Huck, appreciate him for making what already looks to be the greatest primary evah even more interesting than it was.

I’ll bet establishmentarians appreciate him, at least: Having Huck and Ben Carson both in the race will probably hurt their nemesis, Ted Cruz, more than anyone else. Exit question: If you’re a social conservative in Iowa, how on earth do you begin to sort this out? You’ve got Huck and maybe Santorum on the menu if you want to send a message about values. But if you do that, withholding your vote from a more mutifaceted social con like Rubio, you risk helping Bush or Christie. After all, the establishment candidates would be thrilled to see Huck or Ben Carson win Iowa since it’s unlikely that their niche candidacies will play in less evangelical states like New Hampshire or Florida. On the other hand, if you’re a social con in Iowa who does want to cast a vote for someone who can contend in New Hampshire or Florida, how do you go about choosing between Rubio, Walker, Perry, and Jindal (and maybe Ryan)? Seems likely to me that those four or five will end up splitting a big pool of votes fairly evenly, which would leave room for Paul or even Bush or Christie to steal a win by consolidating their own niches behind themselves.

I guess I need to end with this clip, since a thousand different Huck-hating commenters will be demanding it if I don’t.