This is the last edition of Huckabee on the Fox News Channel. It has been the ride of a lifetime, and I have never had so much fun in my life. But I also realize that God hasn¹t put me on earth just to have a good time or to make a good living, but rather has put me on earth to try to make a good life.

There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether I would run for President. 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. 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. As much as I have loved doing the show, I love my country more, and feel that it may be time for me to leave a zone of comfort to engage in the conflicts that have almost destroyed the bedrock foundations of America. I feel compelled to ascertain if the support exists strongly enough for another Presidential run.

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Huckabee’s decision to leave Fox News, where he hosts a popular weekend evening program, gives him the flexibility to speak with donors and more seriously weigh a presidential run.

Huckabee joined Fox News in 2008, months after his first presidential campaign ended. Huckabee secured an early victory in the Iowa caucuses in 2008 before bowing out of the Republican presidential primary in March of that year.

Huckabee has plans to be in the presidential testing grounds of Iowa later this month. He is scheduled to speak at the Rep. Steve King and Citizens United-sponsored event, the Iowa Freedom Summit on Jan. 24 in Des Moines. A day later, he is scheduled to be in Cedar Rapids for an event on his book tour.

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), and Gov. Rick Perry (R-Tex.) have been courting Iowa’s evangelical voters for months, believing the support of that bloc is up for grabs. Huckabee’s entry would make the battle for those conservative votes a messy and crowded contest, with the Arkansan bringing a deep base of support from his 2008 campaign with him. Huckabee drew more favorable responses than any other potential candidate during an exit poll this year in Iowa, with 19 percent of Republican voters there saying they wanted him to be the next presidential nominee…

Added Russell Moore, the head of the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, also in November, “When I ask pastors about who they like most, they usually mention him.”

“He’s one of the best retail politicians ever,” said Ed Rollins, a former Huckabee adviser, in a November interview. “The question is: is that enough? Can he convince Republicans that he is the strongest candidate to go up against Hillary Clinton? Can he raise the money to build a national infrastructure?”…

“Nobody knows the Clintons better than Mike and Clinton tried to beat him every time. He matches up well against Hillary Clinton. He has the common touch and he can speak to income inequality,” said Huckabee adviser Bob Wickers in November.

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Huckabee’s quasi-announcement thrilled the sort of voters who backed his 2008 bid. Importantly, many of those voters live in Iowa. At a summer gathering of the FAMiLY Leader, a conservative group led by Bob Vander Plaats, many people wore buttons with Huckabee’s face and a number—75 percent. That was his chance of running in 2016, as he’d told one interviewer. When Huckabee stumped for 2014 Iowa Republican candidates, he was embraced by fans who watched his show and monitored a #hopingforhuckabee hashtag.

“I’ve known since last February he was running, so this is no surprise,” said Steve Deace, a Des Moines-based conservative radio host. “The good news of a Huckabee run is his presence in the race will mean no one will get away from ducking the so-called ‘social issues’ that are so important to the GOP base.”

Several [rival] candidates had already condemned Common Core, the educational standards that have become absolutely toxic on the right. On Saturday night, Huckabee’s critics started pointing out that he had not fully turned on the program. “Let’s not make this something that we’re going to shed blood for no particular value to the students,” Huckabee said in August 2014. “I want to fight for students. The fight is not about the program or what it’s called.”

That could be an opening for an attack against Huckabee, much as his immigration stances had been thrown back at him in 2008. But every Republican contender will get into the muck about something in his record. Few of them are so personally trusted and beloved by social conservatives as Huckabee is.

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If Huckabee runs, the hurdles he faced the last time out, namely geography and money, would still be there. Huckabee will need to demonstrate that he can build upon his eight 2008 primary and caucus victories, and win outside of the evangelical strongholds of Iowa and the rural South. Having regional appeal is one thing; simply being a regional candidate is another.

Practically speaking, Huckabee must win in places like Florida, Texas and Virginia, which is no small task given Bush’s footprint in Florida, and Sen. Ted Cruz’s favorite son status in Texas. For the moment, national polls show Bush and New Jersey’s governor, Chris Christie, at the front of the Republican field, with Huckabee, Paul, and Ben Carson in contention, and Cruz looking like an also-ran.

Huckabee will also need to establish a reliable fundraising base, something that up until now has proved to be elusive. In 2008, Huckabee raised a little over $16 million, with less than $55,000 coming from political action committees. By contrast, John McCain, the eventual GOP nominee, had raised approximately $12.7 million in the first quarter of 2007 alone.

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But his slow strip toward ultimately saying he wouldn’t run in 2012 has left many skeptical of his intentions for 2016. The former Arkansas governor appears to have profited financially from being in the national spotlight — raking in money from paid speeches, for instance, and making expansive use of chartered planes — and many believe he’s unlikely to leave aside a life of relative comfort for a long-shot campaign.

Sources say Huckabee still has paid speeches scheduled in the coming weeks. Huckabee also has a book coming out later this month, titled “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” and speculation about a presidential run could add to the hype as he promotes the book.

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This isn’t going to be like 2008. Huckabee is probably the most likeable candidate in the field, but he isn’t going to sneak up on anyone this time. He enters with higher name recognition, but also with a target on his back.

No, I don’t mean from the Republican establishment. I mean from the candidates who will look to run as populist alternatives to the Republican establishment candidates. I don’t see any path for a Republican populist that does not include a very large share of the conservative evangelical vote. If Huckabee dominates among conservative evangelicals, there is no room for a Ted Cruz or a Rick Santorum and much less room for Rand Paul to improve on his father’s 2012 performance. In order for these alternative candidates to have a chance, they would have to break apart Huckabee as a viable candidate (Rand Paul has already started). If they can’t do that, they don’t have anything. Those are the incentives.

Huckabee can probably gain stature if he ends up the last man standing against the Republican establishment. But to get that far, he will have to survive being gang-tackled by the other anti-establishment candidates.

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I can’t see Huckabee winning the GOP nomination. But there remains a strong constituency of social conservatives within the GOP and with fewer Republicans willing to oppose gay marriage, he could stand apart from the crowd and make a run of it. It wouldn’t surprise me if he were to win the Iowa Caucuses again. 

On the other hand, if Rick Santorum (who narrowly won the Iowa Caucuses in 2012) runs again then that social conservative vote is split. Of the two, Huckabee would be the stronger candidate. While Santorum is dogged and determined, he can be his own worst enemy and sometimes comes off like a sourpuss. Huckabee’s greatest asset is that he is a happy warrior. It took him far in 2008. 

If Huckabee runs and once again falls short, he could be a viable running mate for someone like Jeb Bush to shore up conservative support

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“My own frustration with President Obama is not merely the dramatic point of view that I have with him, between his liberal views and my conservative ones. It’s as much with his squandering the opportunity that he had that he do he said he would do … back in 2008. …

“Quite frankly governing is hard work. It requires the patience of Job, the strength of Samson, the courage of David, the perseverance of Noah, the intellect of Paul, the wisdom of Solomon, and the forgiveness of Jesus. And there is no substitute for time spent building relationships with people who don’t like you and who don’t want to work with you. In the words of that great political philosopher Mick Jagger, ‘You can’t always get what you want.’ …

“Now we haven’t seen much of that out of Washington. But I would welcome the approach. So here’s hoping that in the new year of 2015, we see the fine art of governing and if not, I will say what parents often say to their kids, Don’t make me come up there.”

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