Mike Huckabee is deluding himself and will never be president

Maybe Mike Huckabee had a chance to do OK in 2012, when the field was Santorum-level bad. But in 2016? What?

Published December 13, 2013 5:59PM (EST)

  (AP/Keith Srakocic)
(AP/Keith Srakocic)

Great news, world: Mike Huckabee may want to run for president again! Huh?

For the kids out there: Mike Huckabee was this big fat guy who was governor of Arkansas and then lost a lot of weight, wrote a book about it, and decided to run for president in 2008. He got the second most delegates even though he had no campaign money and didn't necessarily know what he was talking about, especially on foreign policy -- much like oh, say, 90 percent of the candidates who ran in 2012. He enjoys slappin' the bass and nowadays does the whole conservative media TV gig/radio show/book/wingnut conference speaker cashapalooza bundle thing.

Hey, here's a question: Why the hell didn't he run in 2012, when the field may have been just weak enough for him to win the presidential nomination? As he alludes to (/says straight-up) in an interview with the New York Times, money was a big thing: both the amount he could raise and the amount that was lining his pockets at the time.

He said he did not run for president in 2012 because he did not think President Obama could be defeated, but he also acknowledged he has enjoyed earning a measure of financial comfort and celebrity through his show.

It is those two factors, along with the rise of “super PACs” that let a single wealthy individual sustain a candidate lacking a major financial network, that he says are making him look closely at a second presidential run.

Huckabee doesn't, and may never, have a broad network of cash to tap into to finance a run. But when he decided against running in 2011, it still wasn't necessarily clear that with super PACs, you only needed one rich, eccentric dude to air-support your entire primary campaign, as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would later show. And then there was the fact that he and his wife were building a $3 million home in Florida at the time and, well, how was he going to meet the mortgage payments on that? After a career in government service, having money was a nice thing.

Huckabee is a hot-tempered guy, so his reason for floating this possible bid in 2016 makes perfect sense: he's upset that no one's seriously talking about him as a 2016 candidate. (Well, friend, when you make journalists sit through your crappy Saturday night Fox show for a full hour before announcing you're not going to run, as you did in 2011, that's what's gonna happen.) And whining "What about me me me!" isn't a great look:

But he also suggested that one of the reasons he granted an interview about his political future after addressing a gathering of pastors is that he is still bothered about how his first presidential run ended — and he wants the respect he believes is due somebody who performed better than more-vaunted candidates and who remains popular with many conservatives.

Discussing the potential Republican field in 2016, Mr. Huckabee said it would be “tough” for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey to win such conservative redoubts as Iowa and South Carolina, two early nominating states.

“Let me show you some polling,” Mr. Huckabee said, brandishing a two-page memo about a survey his longtime pollster took earlier this month suggesting that he was leading the Republican field in both Iowa and South Carolina. He boasted that such good numbers came at a time when “nobody has even talked about me being named” as a candidate.

Yes, and whoever's leading the polls three years ahead of a presidential election is always the victor! Just ask President Giuliani.

Huckabee's base is social conservatives, and the social conservative candidate, in what's expected to be a much stronger field than there was in either 2008 or 2012, will not win. The big battles will be over fiscal and economic issues -- that's the difference between now and 2008 in the Republican Party. And perhaps some forget that even in 2008, Huckabee, something of a "big government conservative" during his time in Little Rock, was under constant attack from the right on these issues? The Club for Growth is already at work reminding people of that.

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But there is one way that Huckabee's entry would almost certainly change the race: It would make the Iowa caucuses, impossibly enough, an even more minuscule factor in the contest than it already is. And we're talking about a state whose party, in 2012, took three weeks to figure out who won. And if they want to get a head start on certification this time around, just in case, they might as well go ahead today and declare Huckabee the winner, because Iowa's his jam. The people there love him. He'd probably take it in a walk. Meaning, none of the other candidates would even bother with Iowa, and the real process would begin in New Hampshire, where Huckabee freaks people out. From there on, it's all about who has the most money to bombard other candidates with television ads in South Carolina, Florida and the great beyond. And then whoever wins that smash-up will get to lose to Hillary Clinton.

Maybe 2012 would have been doable for Huckabee. Hell, he just would've had to beat Mitt Romney. But in 2016, squaring off against Bush, Rubio, Paul, Christie, Ryan, Cruz and a handful of other governors whom people haven't completely forgotten about? Maybe it'd be easier to just watch the race play out from the comforts of that sweet $3 million pad.

By Jim Newell

Jim Newell covers politics and media for Salon.

MORE FROM Jim Newell

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2016 Elections Arkansas Elections 2012 Gop Mike Huckabee The Right