Two possible reasons why America’s most self-consciously cosmopolitan liberal magazine would devote so much space to a blue-collar southern Christian conservative. Either Huck’s just that charming — and if anyone is, he is — or they kind of like the idea of a Huckabee candidacy. Hmmmm.

Among those who seem awfully high on a Huck run in 2012? Steve Schmidt.

In some ways, Huckabee seems like a promising candidate for 2012: a squeaky-clean family man and bona-fide Christian who loves to talk. His communication is folksy but fluid; he never seems flummoxed, like George W. Bush, or befuddled, like John McCain, or unprepared, like Sarah Palin. “If we’re running a race against their most articulate guy,” Steve Schmidt, John McCain’s former campaign manager, told me, referring to President Obama, “we should put our most articulate guy. Huckabee’s that guy.” Schmidt, who has traded barbs with Palin since the election, said, “There’s no one who really provides a better contrast to Sarah Palin, showing her as an entertainer instead of a serious thinker—and there’s not enough oxygen for both of them.”

There’s no Republican in America better positioned to take up the mantle of “serious thinker” versus “entertainer” than … Mike Huckabee, who supports the Fair Tax and who, unlike Palin, actually has his own show on Fox News? Every episode of which ends with him playing bass with his band? More:

Mike Huckabee will always be too weird for the Old Guard of his party. But the Party is a fractured and dispersed association at this point. No clear Republican front-runner has emerged for the next Presidential race. Palin quit her only substantive job in government and has not hired establishment players to reshape her as a more mainstream candidate; even less Presidentially, she is going to be the star of a reality television show. [No, she isn’t. — AP] Mitt Romney, who won the straw poll at the Southern Republican Leadership conference, in April, is regarded by some Republicans as a flip-flopper, and his Mormonism is a liability. Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, has the powerful support of Rush Limbaugh, but he is only halfway through his first term and, assuming he wins reëlection in 2011, would have to abandon office almost immediately to start campaigning for President. Haley Barbour has the potential to consolidate establishment support, but it’s still not clear that he intends to run. Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, announced that he will not run for reëlection, which has been interpreted to mean that he has his eyes on the Presidency, but he is seen by some in his party as too liberal.

Steve Schmidt told me, “Really, there’s three primaries within the Republican primary. There’s the primary that’s the evangelical wing of the Party, there’s the establishment primary, and there’s usually a maverick of an insurgent category. Whoever occupies two out of the three is the nominee.” It would not take a packaging genius to put Huckabee out as an evangelical insurgent.

If Schmidt’s right then Romney’s already finished because he’s neither an insurgent nor an evangelical darling. But then neither was McCain, his “maverick” brand notwithstanding (and neither was Bob Dole); the “establishment primary” has, historically, been far and away the most important for Republicans, although whether that’ll hold two years from now in a post-tea-party landscape is anyone’s guess. As for Huck, Ross Douthat rightly notes that he’s been shrewd in wooing the tea party, but I’m skeptical that anyone who dumps on libertarians as much as Huckabee does can realistically expect to unite the party in 2012. A direct quote from his book via the New Yorker piece: “However wrongheaded Democrats might be, they tell you exactly what they’re going to do. The real threat to the Republican Party is something we saw a lot of this past election cycle: libertarianism masked as conservatism.” He elaborates:

In defiance of libertarian laissez-faire, Huckabee has extended his Christian vision to include the poor. “If there are a certain number of kids from single-parent homes who aren’t going to school and don’t have health care, you can say that’s not government’s job,” Huckabee told me. “Well, sweet and fine! But you know what? If the kid’s sitting outside the door of the hospital choking with asthma, do I sit there and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t think, philosophically, government should get involved’? I’d much rather the kid get help than I sit around and say I’m so pure in my ideology.”

Remember, according to PPP, Ron Paul is dead in the water as a potential GOP nominee but could do catastrophic damage as a third-party candidate given his appeal to independents. In fact, the Daily Caller’s out with a piece just this morning weighing the prospects of Republicans nominating a libertarian like Gary Johnson in 2012. Plenty of tea partiers would grit their teeth and support Huck against The One if it came to that — but not all would, especially the Paulnut contingent. The more the Democrats drive a wedge within the base by focusing on Huck’s position on gays, drugs, “the End Times,” etc., the more pressure there would be for a libertarian true believer to jump in and run as a Bob Barr-type third-party alternative. All he’d need is five percent or so, potentially, to hand The One a second term.

The news is slow, so take advantage and read the whole New Yorker piece. I especially enjoyed the author contrasting Huck’s self-congratulation for questioning received wisdom with his refusal to question received wisdom in the case of gay marriage. Oh, and note his knowing laughter when the author suggests Palin’s appeal to conservatives is rooted in how “entertaining” she is. Huck’s always had a chip on his shoulder about her; I’m honestly surprised she hasn’t fired back yet. Via TV Newser, I’ll leave you with this eyebrow-raising bit of fun from his recent appearance on “Red Eye.” Normally I’d shrug it off, but in the context of that chip…