THE LIMITS OF HUCKABEE’S OUTRAGE….Way back in May, at the first debate for the Republican presidential candidates, there was an interesting exchange that signaled the kind of talk we could expect from Mike Huckabee.

The former governor explained, “The most important thing a president needs to do is to make it clear that we’re not going to continue to see jobs shipped overseas … and then watch as a CEO takes a hundred-million-dollar bonus to jettison those American jobs somewhere else.” After decrying CEO pay and vulnerable worker pensions, Huckabee concluded, “That’s criminal. It’s wrong. And if Republicans don’t stop it, we don’t deserve to win in 2008.”

At the time, it surprised some people that a Republican candidate would even pay lip service to the concerns of working people. It led some to argue that Huckabee had something of a populist streak.

He doesn’t. For one thing, it’s hard to even take the notion seriously given Huckabee’s enthusiastic support for a 23% national sales tax. For another, his talk about how “criminal” it is for CEOs to reap a windfall while workers are losing their jobs is just pleasant-sounding rhetoric, which he has no intention of taking seriously.

Huckabee made this abundantly clear during a CNBC interview on Monday night.

HARWOOD: Governor, let me ask you, which is the criminal part, the loss of those jobs and the loss of pension, or the golden parachute for the CEO? And what would you do about either one?

HUCKABEE: It’s a combination. It’s when one person is losing his job who helped make the company successful and the person who steers the company either into bankruptcy or selling off it in pieces has that golden parachute of $700 million…. What the government ought to do is to call attention to it, put some spotlight to it. I don’t think it’s about coming up with some new regulation. Corporate boards ought to show some responsibility. If a board allows that kind of thing to happen, shame on that board.

Asked if he, as president, would actually want to do something about the problem, Huckabee said he would “like” to see corporate boards “show responsibility.” He would oppose efforts to regulate, though, because government action “only exacerbates a problem.”

So, in May, Huckabee insisted that it was “criminal” to see CEOs cleaning up while workers are losing their jobs, and said Republicans have no choice but to intervene and “stop it.” But in December, Huckabee believes the government should do nothing more than “call attention to” the problem.

I suppose it’s the difference between a long-shot in the spring, and a credible challenger in the fall. Seven months ago, Huckabee could pretend to care about working people, because few knew his name, and even fewer thought he had a chance. Now, Huckabee wants to win, so he’s dropping the pretense.

Something to consider the next time the media mentions Huckabee’s “populist” streak.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.