Huck On the Cusp of Candidacy Again

TNR’s Nora Caplan-Bricker snagged a one-on-one interview with Mike Huckabee at a Starbucks in Manhattan, and the fact that this wasn’t too hard is a pretty good sign that Huck hasn’t gotten too far down the road in planning a possible 2016 presidential campaign. Caplan-Bricker certainly doesn’t seem to think he’s got the requisite fire in the belly (a belly which, Huckabee implicitly concedes, would need to re-shrink if he were to run for president). He’s making money now from his TV show and a variety of other ventures, hates raising money, etc., etc.

Yet there he is at the top of nearly every national poll of Republicans being mentioned as ’16 possibles. He’s got a natural base in Iowa, where he won in 2008. And the time seems ripe for someone with Huck’s unusual blend of “populist” rhetoric, personal charm, and base-pleasing extremist policy positions. He sure wouldn’t have to worry much about car-elevator stories (his new mansion in Florida has been described as resembling a La Quinta Inn), and you can’t quite imagine him making a “47 percent” gaffe. Yeah, oppo researchers might eventually find a mother lode of crazy in some old sermons (it’s easy to forget sometimes that Huckabee was an ordained and practicing Southern Baptist minister before entering politics), assuming Mitt’s people didn’t already plumb those depths. But all in all, he looks a lot less vulnerable to calumny than, say, Scott Walker, rapidly becoming a smart-money dark horse, who own charm is a very elusive quality.

You get the sense from Caplan-Bricker’s account and others that Huck is waiting around to see if some shadowy cartel of Republicans comes to him with a campaign plan and bottomless sacks of money before he gets serious about another presidential race. And maybe that could happen. But it’s been a while (maybe W. in Texas in the early 1990s, definitely Reagan in California in the mid-60s) since a major political figure has managed to become William McKinley to somebody else’s Mark Hanna.

I admit I’ve only watched Huck’s TV show once: on May 14, 2011, when he announced he wasn’t joining the 2012 circus. His big guest that day was Ted Nugent (Huck sat in on bass for a performance of “Cat Scratch Fever”), and Huckabee’s ability to look supportive but not especially associated during the hate-rocker’s spews of rage was impressive. Maybe he’s just what the political doctor ordered for the GOP. But if so, the people with the big sacks of money need to talk with him soon, and probably not at a Starbucks.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.