Huckabee getting serious about a 2016 bid?

Mike Huckabee ran a strong primary campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, but eventually fell short to John McCain and Mitt Romney. He skipped the 2012 cycle, despite raising his profile as a national-television talk show host. Will he give it a whirl in 2016? The Hill’s Cameron Joseph thinks Huckabee is getting “more serious” about it:

“He’s more serious this time. He sees the environment to be better for him this time than in 2012,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Huckabee’s daughter and a senior strategist from his first presidential campaign. “It just seems so right for a lot of different reasons. I think there is a bigger opportunity this time around, and he’s very, very seriously considering a run.”

The 2008 runner-up for the nomination has been hard at work reconnecting with past supporters and building new relationships with the GOP establishment. He’s already visited Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, with another trip to Iowa planned for early April. He’s made a number of high-profile speeches in recent weeks, including last week’s address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

If he does run, Huckabee would start off in a much stronger position than he did six years ago. He’s well-known by the GOP base and has even led in a number of early 2016 polls, both nationally and in early voting Iowa and South Carolina.

The most telling indicator of his thinking is Huckabee’s decision not to renew his lucrative radio contract in order to free up his schedule for other activities. A major factor in deciding not to run last time was that he was making good money for the first time in his life. He was in the process of building an expensive house on Florida’s panhandle and wasn’t ready to give up his big paycheck at the time.

That’s certainly one indicator that Huckabee could be clearing the decks, although moving from his radio show to an Internet platform might not be that much of a change. Huckabee also appeared at CPAC last weekend, which isn’t necessarily a major indicator, either — lots of Republicans appear and speak at CPAC, in or out of office, without aiming for the nomination. Huckabee did hold a press conference at the time, which I attended (and offered a question on economic policy). Huckabee pressed hard on social conservatism and populist economics, just as Joseph suggests:

He’s shifted from the Fair Tax to the flat tax, Joseph reports, perhaps in a way to build bridges with fiscal conservatives. Huckabee has also reversed course on supporting Common Core, which has come under withering criticism from conservatives, although to what extent isn’t quite clear.  All of these would be opening moves for a 2016 bid.

However, the Republican Party has changed enough to where former candidates probably won’t get taken all that seriously. The base wants fresh voices and fresh approaches rather than a reversion to the next-in-line pattern of the GOP. They will have plenty of governors from which to choose in 2016 — Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Mike Pence, perhaps Susana Martinez if she tosses her hat in the ring, or maybe even Rick Perry, although he tried and failed in the last cycle. Inside Washington, we’ll probably see freshmen Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio give it a whirl. These all look like the future rather than the past, and Huckabee will have that extra hurdle to overcome if he wants to compete in this new environment.

But who knows? This cycle might be even more wide open than 2008, as Jake Tapper suggested to Hugh Hewitt last night. In fact, there’s only one potential candidate Tapper is willing to discount, and it’s another talk-show host (via Jeff Dunetz):