Paul Bedard’s been hinting at this for the past week but I ignored it because, let’s face it, we went through this with Huckabee four years ago. Lots of early will-he-or-won’t-he teasing followed by a LeBron-ish announcement on his Fox show that he would pass.
The fact that the Times, WaPo, and CBN are all running pieces about it today, though, suggests a semi-official rollout. Would a man who’s less than serious be walking around with memos about his polling in key early primary states? Dude, I think this is happening.
“Let me show you some polling,” Mr. Huckabee said, brandishing a two-page memo about a survey his longtime pollster took earlier this month showing him leading the Republican field in both Iowa and South Carolina. He boasted that such good numbers came at a time when “nobody has even talked about me being named” as a candidate…
“A lot of things I said that I was sneered at about turned out to be prophetic,” he said about the criticism he took from fellow Republicans over his focus on the working class during the 2008 campaign. “A year later I looked like a genius but nobody ever said, ‘Huckabee was right,’” he said…
“If Republicans want to win, they’ve got to go get a portion of the population they’ve missed the last two election cycles, particularly working-class people and minorities who have not thought there was a message for them,” he said, touting his ability with such constituencies. But Mr. Huckabee, a social conservative who has drawn fire from some economic conservatives over the years, also suggested his decision would also be based on whether Republicans continue demanding strict adherence to conservative orthodoxy.
“Does the Republican Party want to win elections or do they want fight each other in a purity war? he asked, calling attention to the many incumbent senators who have drawn primary opponents aligned with the Tea Party.
If there’s one thing the GOP field is lacking, it’s a centrist governor with working-class appeal who performs well with minorities. Anyway, three thoughts. First, Liz Mair might not speak for every libertarian in saying this but I suspect she speaks for most of them:
That complaint aside, I would prefer Huckabee to be in the race/acting as standard-bearer for social conservatives, over Santorum.
— Liz Mair (@LizMair) December 13, 2013
Not much daylight between those two on policy but, as a matter of style, the former seems to understand better than the latter that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. The risk of Huckabee saying something that would derail the news cycle for a week isn’t zero, but it’s smaller than it is for Santorum.
Second, there’s always room for a social-con champion in the race. With Santorum feeling like old news after losing to Romney, the time might be right for a Huckabee comeback. But … if he wanted to run again, why didn’t he run in 2012? The field was weak and Romney was vulnerable in the south. Huck could have elbowed out Santorum to take Iowa — he’s a better retail politician for sure — and then filled the Anybody But Mitt niche that Newt ended up filling to win South Carolina. From there, with Romney on the ropes and the base driven by their antipathy to Mitt to try to convince themselves that nominating Huck might not be a disaster, he could have made things interesting. At the very least, a strong showing would have landed him on the ticket as Romney’s VP. I can understand him concluding that Obama, as an incumbent, was likely unbeatable, but if there’s any non-incumbent in American politics who might run with the same advantages as an incumbent, it’s the Democrats’ likely 2016 nominee. Maybe Huck thought that between Romney’s money advantage and the fact that it would have ended up as a binary choice between them, the odds of winning were simply too low. Better to run against a strong field that’s split many ways, since potentially a social-con candidate could win with, say, 33 percent of the vote.
Third, the big winner from Huckabee running would be Christie, no? At first that makes no sense: In certain key ways, as noted above, they occupy the same niche. But for reasons I’ve never completely understood, lots of grassroots righties — some of them social conservatives — can’t stand Huck and would seemingly vote for nearly anyone else in the interest of stopping him. (That includes, I’d guess, maybe 85 percent of the HA readership.) Huckabee’s no threat to Christie among the donor class; he’s also no threat among GOP centrist voters, who might sympathize with Huck’s economic policies but will opt for Christie because of his relative social moderation. And of course he’s no threat among social cons, who were never going to vote for Christie in the first place. He is a threat to right-wing candidates like Cruz, Paul, and (kinda sorta) Rubio, who need social cons behind them to stop Christie in a one-on-one battle for the nomination. Huckabee, by siphoning away some of those votes, could weaken those guys; and if Huck wins Iowa and South Carolina, all but eliminating the rest of the conservative field, Christie would relish the chance to face him head to head the rest of the way for the nomination. He could paint him as an essentially regional candidate whose social views would be endlessly distorted and demagogued by Democrats in the general election. Even many grassroots righties, I suspect, would start to tilt from an Anybody But Christie posture to an Anybody But Huckabee one. Christie would roll to victory and Huck would land on the shortlist for VP, only to lose to Susana Martinez. His convention speech will be damned solid, though, rest assured.
Here he is, via CBN, telling David Brody that the people he meets really want him in the race this time. Exit question: Are we sure he’s serious, or is this yet another publicity stunt aimed at ginning up interest in a media venture?