Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s (R) announcement Saturday that he is leaving Fox News as he considers running for president again has regnited an old feud between himself and the conservative Club for Growth — a spat that dates back nearly a decade.
“In a year in which GOP voters appear likely to have several good pro-economic growth candidates to choose from, Mike Huckabee’s big government record would stand out from the crowd, and not in a good way,” said Club for Growth president David McIntosh in a statement Monday…
Huckabee and the Club have a long-standing feud that goes back. Way back. All the way back to 2006 when, as governor, Huckabee signed a minimum wage increase into law. At the time, the Club panned the move, painting Huckabee as a liberal who “seems to think government is better at helping the poor than the free market.” Huckabee dismissed the Club’s attacks, insisting he was in charge of representing his constituents, not submitting to the group’s demands.
“I’m going to try to do the job that I was elected to do and not worry about some label a person is going to put on me,” Huckabee said in response to the group at the time.
A senior Huckabee aide, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, sought Sunday to counter suggestions that the former governor will find it difficult to raise the necessary funds.
The aide said Huckabee’s team anticipates the need to raise about $50 million by the time of the Iowa caucuses in early 2016, with the money divided between the campaign’s budget and a super PAC, and said Huckabee has done much work to make that a reachable goal.
“There are people who have come to us talking big numbers,” the aide said. “People who want to do super-PAC stuff, people who want to bundle. That doesn’t mean we’re going to get them all, but there is a level of security on our side that the financial support is going to be there this time.”…
“He remains the most charismatic candidate around,” Rollins said. “The problem for us in 2008 was that every morning we were wondering if we had enough money to fly to the next spot. If he wants to go the distance, he can’t find himself in that position again.”
“It’s a more crowded and stronger field than when he ran in 2008, with some significant governors who are more current and stronger fundraisers,” said veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins, who served as Mr. Huckabee’s campaign manager that year. “There will be no quick knockout this time, and money and organization are going to be very important.”
Mr. Rollins estimated it will take $75 million to compete in the first four nominating contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and $75 million more to win enough delegates in other states to clinch the nomination.
The 59-year-old Baptist preacher raised about $16 million in his 2008 campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His political committee, Huck PAC, raised $2.2 million during the 2014 election cycle…
“We need someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, who isn’t angry all the time and pointing fingers at the opposition and using over-the-top rhetoric,” said GOP consultant Hogan Gidley, former executive director of Mr. Huckabee’s PAC. “I think the American people are weary of people who just stand in front of a podium and pound their fists but have never accomplished anything.”
His candidacy would reinforce the divide between hard-line anti-immigration reform opponent Cruz and most everyone else. As we have noted, the worst-kept secret is that Paul, Jeb Bush, Huckabee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are more similar to one another than to Cruz on immigration reform. The former group wants border control and then some pathway to legalization or citizenship while Cruz is stuck on deportation or self-deportation only.
Huckabee also makes life difficult for Rand Paul when it comes to foreign policy. Huckabee is as staunch a defender of Israel as any American politician and is keenly aware of the larger threat of Islamic fundamentalism, whether in Iran or in the Islamic State. He will have no qualms about highlighting Paul’s plan to eliminate all aid to Israel (along with every other country), opposition to the Menendez-Kirk sanctions on Iran and desire to tie the president’s hands in fighting the Islamic State. He may also join hawkish candidates like Perry in jabbing Cruz for his foreign policy positions (e.g. supporting legislation to hamstring the National Security Agency, backing legislation to subvert the chain of command in sexual assault investigations, an air-only plan for fighting the Islamic State).
And finally, Huckabee has already jabbed at the trio of freshmen senators who may seek to duplicate President Obama’s example of seeking the presidency after barely touching down in the Senate. Huckabee has no qualms about pointing out the lack of executive experience and temperamental shortcomings of the men with virtually no legislative accomplishments or executive experience.
There remains considerable doubt as to whether Huckabee can extend his appeal beyond religious voters. But in fact his populist, pro-working class appeal in 2008 may find considerable traction in 2016.
Among the pastors Lane deals with, Huckabee is by far the most resonant figure in the 2016 pack. He views Carson as a “consultant-driven candidate” whose draft effort is making direct mail and telemarketers wealthy. “Carson is irrelevant. He probably couldn’t be elected statewide in his home state of Maryland,” he says. “There’s nothing there.”
Cruz, Lane likes, “but don’t know yet if he can out Huckabee, Huckabee.”
He obviously believes Huckabee has a special talent to convey cultural conservatsm with an optimistic shine.
“If McCain in 2008, or Romney in 2012, had have picked Huckabee as their vice president, both would have been elected president,” he says.
But while Huckabee monopolized this demographic in 2008, these same evangelical voters are key to plenty of candidates who are considered as formidable in 2016, up to and including Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
Huckabee did so well among this group in large part because there wasn’t another candidate with the same kind of profile as him — save perhaps Fred Thompson. But that’s no longer the case. The options for evangelicals in 2016 could include Huckabee, Cruz, Paul, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal.
That’s a lot of people competing for a key but limited base of supporters. It will make Huckabee hard-pressed to repeat his showing from 2008, but don’t be surprised if he continues to poll quite well and takes significant votes.
Huckabee’s best performances outside of the South came in the caucuses in Iowa (34 percent) and Alaska (22 percent). On average, he won just 13 percent of the vote in the non-Southern or border states listed in the table. Huckabee did perform better once Romney left the race, but Huckabee never won a contest outside the South or border states.
That’s a major problem when trying to win nationally. The vast majority (70 percent) of Republican delegates are from outside the former Confederate states. Given that many non-Southern states have minimum thresholds to win delegates or will be winner take all, Huckabee would win few delegates in them if he performs anything like he did in 2008. In fact, his path to a majority of delegates would probably be shut out no matter how well he does in the South…
But Huckabee’s strong base of support among born-again and evangelical Christians could thwart a conservative alternative to candidates like Bush and Christie. For a very conservative Republican candidate to emerge as the nominee, he would probably have to win the Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire primary given the effect of momentum in presidential primaries…
By entering the race, Huckabee would make it that much more likely that a more mainstream candidate will win the nomination by dominating in those states that McCain and Romney did.
I defended him from some of the criticisms he got then, but also concluded, based on the first four contests of that presidential cycle, that he was too weak among non-evangelical voters to have a real shot at the nomination. The pattern of support I identified largely continued after those four contests. In Florida, for example, Huckabee carried 29 percent of evangelical primary voters: McCain, Romney, and he had essentially a three-way tie among them. But he won only 4 percent of non-evangelicals, who were 61 percent of the primary electorate, and so his overall total was less than half that of either of those other candidates.
His non-evangelical numbers perked up a bit after Romney exited the race, McCain had the nomination sewn up, and there was nowhere else for anti-McCain conservatives to go. (In Wisconsin, for example, he got 24 percent of the non-evangelical vote to McCain’s 67 percent.) If Huckabee wants to win the nomination this time around, though, I think he’ll have to run a very different kind of campaign, one much lighter on evangelical identity politics.
I see him almost inevitably as a spoiler rather than a true contender — as a figure who’s likely to split the vote that might otherwise consolidate around a single conservative rival to Jeb or Christie or whomever, but whose own chances at the nomination are exceedingly low. Since this “Huckabee as splitter/spoiler” narrative is basically conventional wisdom, I should add a wrinkle: In a crowded field he might also be helpful to a sui generis figure like Rand Paul, because he could weaken a movement candidate like Ted Cruz among evangelicals while Paul takes votes from Cruz from the libertarian side…
He is a very talented retail politician, yes, and a strong debater in an era when debates seem to matter a little more than in the past. But to build a winning campaign out of his last run’s raw materials, as Ramesh Ponnuru notes, he would have to win over a number of voters — non-evangelicals, and particularly Catholics — who rejected him as too much of preacher-man in 2008, and based on the choices he’s made since then it’s very hard to see how he would manage that kind of outreach. Like most people who enter the world of infotainment, he’s mostly been diminished by the last six years: Some of the heterodoxies he gestured at in 2008 in domestic and foreign policy have found real champions among younger politicians (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul), while Huck himself has become more conventional or affect-driven on substance and even more cornpone in his associations than during his Chuck Norris-endorsed run…
I think it’s pretty clear that the window for a Huckabee run was 2012: A weak Republican field, a conservative movement that lacked anything like an ideologically-ideal champion, and a perfect foil in Mitt Romney. (Oh, to watch that counterfactual timeline’s debates!) Even then he would have had a hard road to win over enough non-evangelical votes to make it work, but at least the opening was there.
What bothers me is the contempt that the consultant class has for the very idea that Mike Huckabee is a qualified or serious candidate. To listen to these people talk, Huckabee has no more right to be taken seriously than someone like Ben Carson who has never held or run for any office of any kind. This is just facially insane. The guy was a governor for a full decade, winning re-election twice, which indicates at least basic competency at the job of being chief executive. The number of other candidates in the field who can make that claim are exactly zero. (UPDATE: If Rick Perry runs, he will also fit this description. Huckabee’s executive/electoral experience still laps most of the expected field who will be treated as serious candidates.)
I think it is entirely fair to engage Mike Huckabee stridently on the substance. I think it’s fair to call him a nanny-stater and arguably fair to call him a tax-hiker, and definitely fair to question his ability to win in the general. What bothers me is that, resume-wise, Huckabee is pretty much the same guy as Jeb Bush. People who disagree with Jeb generally start their disagreement with Jeb’s policies and his tenure as governor. People who disagree with Huckabee generally start by attacking him personally as a chump, or a buffoon, or as a fraud.
Believe it or not, the people who get up early every Sunday morning and go to their Southern Baptist churches and who take the Bible as a serious proposition in terms of how they live their daily lives are smart enough to figure out why Huckabee gets this disparate treatment and what it means about how the folks in Washington, DC who are at least nominally on their side view them. In other words, for the sake of the coalition, maybe it would be worth toning back the contempt a little, for those who are able to manage it.
If a lot of Huckabee’s evangelical supporters conclude that the party, in rejecting him, is also rejecting them, then the damage will be lasting…
Since Huckabee was not going to win the nomination [in 2008], the problem he posed for the party as a whole was one of coalition management. The first rule in such a situation is not to attack the man’s supporters: Don’t call them country bumpkins. The second is not to attack him in terms that could be (and often are) applied to his supporters: Don’t call him a country bumpkin, either. The third is not to attack him in hysterical terms. Some of Huckabee’s voters could be persuaded that his ideas on economics and foreign policy were misguided and even dangerous. They were not going to be persuaded that he was a “pro-life liberal” who had hoodwinked them. Too many of Huckabee’s opponents, particularly on the Internet, violated all three rules.
A fourth rule, perhaps a corollary of the second, is not to attack him in terms that the Left regularly uses against all conservatives. Most evangelical conservatives do not want a theocracy but believe that the modern liberal version of the separation of church and state is deeply mistaken. Liberals tend to think any dissent from their preferences in this matter is at least incipiently theocratic. Too many of Huckabee’s conservative critics joined them in that confusion. To critique Huckabee’s approach to religion and politics was entirely reasonable; to adopt the ideas and even the language of secular liberalism was counterproductive. It hardened evangelicals’ support for him.
Next time we will have to do better. For there will be a next time. Evangelicals and others are going to have to live with each other inside the GOP for some years to come — and, now, with Mike Huckabee as well.
Perhaps Huckabee can top his 2008 showing. If Jeb Bush runs but Chris Christie proves more durable than Giuliani, Huckabee may be positioned to win more states with 25 to 30 percent of the vote. That probably wouldn’t suffice for the nomination by itself, but it could buy him more time to broaden his base…
Keeping Huckabee from consolidating the evangelical vote will be important for some of the other candidates. If Jeb Bush follows his brother’s lead, he will marry the evangelical vote to the establishment, making it difficult for any movement conservative challenge to get off the ground…
Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal or John Kasich, to name just a few possibilities, would all benefit from a split evangelical vote, with each getting their slice. Ted Cruz may even try to dethrone Huckabee as the top evangelical vote-getter, as Santorum will likely need to do to even keep pace with his 2012 performance.
American politics has become a volatile business, so anything can happen. But the smart money says either Huckabee goes nowhere in 2016 or conservatives do.