The word “president” isn’t uttered here but the subject line of the e-mail from his website containing the link to this clip was “Announcement video” and there’s a countdown clock on the homepage marking the hours until Tuesday’s “event” in Arkansas. He’s in. And as announcement videos go, this one’s interesting — as much for what it doesn’t contain as what it does. It starts by playing up Huckabee’s record in remaking “Bill Clinton’s Arkansas,” signaling that he’s going to run in the primaries not only as a man who can beat the Clintons in the general but a man who has, effectively, already done it once before. That’s his answer to Scott Walker’s claim that he knows how to beat the left after having done it repeatedly in Wisconsin. That’s great, Huckabee will say. Here’s my trump card.
What’s missing from this vid, though? It’s got plenty to offer the blue-collar Republicans whom Huckabee’s targeting — promises of wage growth, a solemn vow to protect America’s unsustainable entitlements, and a little saber-rattling at ISIS and other jihadi menaces. But … not a word about gay marriage, abortion, or religious liberty. The furthest he goes is noting that he’ll “lead with moral clarity” and that comes as a lead in to foreign policy. You can see the Huckabee master strategy this time in that: His problem in 2008 was ending up pigeonholed as a one-trick evangelical pony, a guy whose southern socially conservative appeal was so narrow that he couldn’t carry it over to similar demographics who might logically be receptive to him, like Catholics. He’s got to make his tent bigger this time to have a shot at winning, just as Romney did in 2012 after running as a social conservative champion himself in 2008. The answer is to aim for working-class righties on kitchen-table issues, knowing that he’ll have lots of chances during the campaign to show off his evangelical cred. At the very least, a Huckabee who can mobilize lower-class conservative whites into turning out is a much more attractive VP candidate than a Huckabee who can mobilize the sort of core Republican evangelical voters who’ll turn out for the eventual nominee anyway. Frankly, not to scare you, but I’d say there’s nonzero chance of a Bush/Huckabee ticket. It’s less likely than a Bush/Walker or Bush/Jindal or Bush/Martinez ticket, admittedly, but that all depends on how well Huck does. Sleep tight, conservatives!