Every Republican who wants to win back the White House in 2016 -- and beyond -- should have stood to applaud Mike Huckabee's announcement Tuesday in Hope, Ark., that he was running for president again.
Why? Because even though Huckabee remains outside of the top tier of candidates, he is, by far, the Republicans' best messenger to the middle and lower-middle classes -- economic brackets that the party has struggled to win in recent elections.
Huckabee's southern populism, which he played to great effect during his 2008 campaign, was front and center during his announcement today. He talked about growing up with people who worked so hard they "sweated through their clothes." He reminisced about a childhood spent with "fishing poles" and "firearms." And, in the speech's rousing conclusion, Huckabee delivered a double-barreled assault on elites; "I don't come from a family dynasty, but from a working family," he said. "I grew up blue collar, not blue blood."
Coming from Huckabee, those messages sound genuine -- whether it's his southern twang, his skills at plain-spokenness or, perhaps most simply, because they are true. (And, yes, I am aware that Huckabee is no longer middle class or anything close to it.) And, boy oh boy, does the Republican party need a messenger who can talk to working people without it feeling about as authentic as George H.W. Bush using a grocery scanner at a supermarket.
Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign, in which he was portrayed as an out-of-touch plutocrat, was, simply put, a disaster for Republicans' efforts to shake the "party for and by the rich" label.
Romney lost voters with a median family income of under $50,000 by 22 points, according to 2012 exit polling. Among voters who said that having a candidate who "cares about people like me" was the most important trait in their decision-making process, President Obama drubbed Romney 81 percent to 18 percent. A majority (53 percent) of the 2012 electorate said that Romney's policies favor the rich while just 34 percent said they favored the middle class. (By contrast, just 10 percent said Obama's policies favored the rich while 44 percent said they favored the middle class.)
Here's roughly then how Americans viewed the Republican party after the 2012 election.
That image, as you might imagine, is a big problem for a party already facing significant demographic hurdles and starting the 2016 general election at an electoral college disadvantage.
And, it was compounded by the fact that Jeb Bush is going to run for president in 2016 and starts out the race as its frontrunner. That's Jeb Bush, the brother and son of presidents and the grandson of a U.S. Senator. Not exactly the best messenger to re-cast the Republican party as the one looking out for the average guy.
That's where Huckabee comes in. While I still am very skeptical that he will be the nominee, he is someone with a committed base of support among social conservatives, name ID left over from his 2008 race and real candidate skills.
That combination of assets -- especially in a field this crowded with candidates -- means that Huckabee will stick around in the race for an extended time, pushing his populist message across the country.
While that alone won't solve the class problems facing the Republican party, it will at least put forward a voice that sounds more like America than, say, John Ellis Bush. And Republicans need that. Badly.