Huckabee in 2016?

The Post’s Karen Tumulty reported this week that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is sounding out activists and donors about a run for the presidential nomination in 2016. Just a day later he announced he was ending his radio show, thereby fueling speculation that he’d surely run. Perhaps.

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 22: Mike Huckabee hosts Playin' Possum! The Final No Show Tribute To George Jones - Show at Bridgestone Arena on November 22, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Mike Huckabee. (Terry Wyatt/Getty Images)

Certainly Huckabee would have a hard time winning. He does not have the same high-powered network of donors that other candidates would be able to access. In 2008, he did not show appeal beyond his evangelical base. That, however, does not make him an inconsequential character in the GOP. Far from it. In a  multi-candidate race, one doesn’t know who might be the one to get 20 or 25 percent in a couple of early contests and suddenly be the front-runner. Huckabee’s anti-Washington populism could play well in Iowa and South Carolina, giving him the chance to come out of the four early primary races (New Hampshire and Nevada are the others) with a head of steam.

More importantly, I think, is what Huckabee can do to the field as a result simply of being in the race and the debates. To begin with, he is a feisty and likeable foil who can take on the all-or-nothing crowd from the right. The Post reported:

However confident he may be in his message, Huckabee would be up against an array of fresh faces in a party desperate to turn the page. And some of his old adversaries are still out there — among them, the Club for Growth, which deemed his gubernatorial record too liberal.

“My hope and prayer is that more mainstream Republicans would push back hard against the groups like Club for Growth and FreedomWorks and even Heritage Action,” Huckabee said in a late October speech in Little Rock.

“Mike Huckabee should attend an anger-management seminar,” Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller said when asked about the prospect of another Huckabee campaign. “He’s still upset that the Club for Growth PAC exposed his support of tax increases and bigger government when he ran for president. If he runs, the first thing he should do is grow a thicker skin and get ready for his atrocious anti-growth record to be exposed to Republican primary voters once again.”

Actually, judging from that exchange it looks like CFG’s spokesman is the one with the anger-management problem. Huckabee has that effect on foes. That may be to the benefit of other candidates fending off the far-right groups and make the far-right candidates seem rather small and nasty. Think how a Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would appreciate having Huckabee there to tangle with the far-right crowd so he doesn’t have to (at least as much as hewould otherwise have to). Huckabee’s focus on the poor and middle class also meshes with some populist in style these days against big business. Maybe he would be the advocate some have been looking for to push breaking up the big banks. He’s the sort of candidate to take a contrarian view, for example, for the extension of unemployment benefits (which does make some economic sense and a whole lot of political sense).

Moreover, Huckabee would pose a problem for the far-right novices who have to win early in order to gain momentum for the race. If Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) doesn’t win in Iowa and/or South Carolina, where will he win? If Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) can’t convince evangelicals he is with them on Israel and social issues, he’s probably never going to pull it off.

Huckabee also lends support to some governors on two issues. First, he tends to embody the welcoming tone toward immigrants and immigration reform that many evangelicals have expressed of late. Evangelicals are hardly united on this point, and to the extent one or more of the pro-immigration reform governors voices support for some form of legalization they will at least have one more voice on their side of the argument. Second, while his voice on foreign policy hasn’t been as clear as other potential candidates, he is an avowed friend of Israel and has frequently talked about human rights (criticizing the Castro brothers, Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez). He is another voice against the isolationist ripple Rand Paul is trying to stir up and ride to the nomination.

Frankly, there is no reason not for him to run. If one wants to be a cynic, there is no doubt a presidential run would lift his profile, speaking fees and book prospects. And in any event he’d make the race more lively. So I’d give the same advice I would extend to any other plausible (a low bar) candidate: Give it a shot.

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