Huck Revving Up?

I had a brief Twitter-debate not long with my esteemed friend and intrepid Christian-Right-watcher Sarah Posner as to whether Mike Huckabee’s talk of running for president in 2016 is just a shuck to attract attention. I’m a bit more inclined than Sarah to take Huck ’16 seriously, and so was intrigued by a report from RealClearPolitics‘ Scott Conroy, who sees signs of a very serious Huckabee proto-campaign in Iowa, where, of course, he won in 2008:

[M]emories of Huckabee’s up-from-obscurity win in 2008 remain fresh for many of the older, conservative voters who still dominate the Republican caucuses.

But outside of Iowa, other political observers tend to forget about him. National pollsters do it every time they neglect to include his name in their 2016 surveys, even though Huckabee polls consistently in the first tier when he is listed as an option….

That’s in no small part, Conroy notes, because people figure Huck is having too much easy fun and making too much money with his weekly show on Fox News. What’s often forgotten, though, is that his show has become a bankable political asset, too:

Huckabee isn’t just a familiar face from a few years back. Instead, he is the jovial and charismatic friend that loyal Fox News viewers welcome into their living rooms each and every week.

Now in its seventh year on the air, “Huckabee”—which combines political commentary, celebrity interviews and musical variety—is a weekend stalwart for the highest-rated cable news network.

New episodes and reruns occupy a total of four hours of valuable airtime on Saturday and Sunday nights, providing the show’s host with hundreds of hours of free advertising that hits some of the most reliable Republican voters.

It’s the kind of media exposure that any of the more frequently talked about GOP contenders can only dream of.

More to the point, people close to Huck are being a lot less ambiguous about his plans than they were four years ago.

Huckabee and his team have set April of next year as the cutoff date for when he needs to decide, but the consensus among many plugged-in conservatives in his orbit is that he is already determined to take that leap.

“Mike Huckabee is 100 percent running,” said Des Moines-based conservative radio host Steve Deace. “No doubt about it at all. He’s in.”

Deace—who provided Huckabee with valuable air cover during his rapid rise to the top of the GOP pack in 2007—said he came to that conclusion after “several” public and private conversations with Huckabee over the last few months.

And David Lane, a typically reticent conservative political operative who is close to Huckabee, agreed with Deace’s assessment.

“I’m watching the chess pieces moving around the board, and I can tell you he’s running,” Lane told RCP in a rare interview. “There’s no question about it to me.”

Next month, Lane is organizing an all-expenses-paid international trip for 50 Christian conservative pastors, who just so happen to hail from the four early voting states on the 2016 calendar (19 from Iowa, two from New Hampshire, 22 from South Carolina, and seven from Nevada).

Leading the 10-day excursion to Poland, England and California—a trip that ostensibly is designed to highlight the leadership of Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan—will be none other than Mike Huckabee.

David Lane is a really big deal in conservative evangelical politics generally, but has a particularly heavy footprint in Iowa.

Now given what happened to the GOP nominating process the last two presidential cycles, there may be an early effort among Christian Right leaders or Constitutional Conservatives generally to unite around a single candidate. And while he has the right credentials Huck doesn’t currently have the kind of “It” factor possessed by Ted Cruz, who has the added advantage of a deranged father willing to come right out and say the scary things most Christian Right types merely imply, in public at least. Rick Perry’s another competitor for this constituency, if he can avoid the process-servers and convince opinion-leaders he deserves a second chance. Ben Carson’s already the favored candidate of the Glenn Beck faction of Con Cons. Bobby Jindal’s more conventional and appeals to the same impulse to find a minority champion for White Identity Politics. Rand Paul not only has a strong Iowa base, but also a loyal following among the more consistently anti-government Christian Right folk, including some militant homeschoolers. And Rick Santorum won a lot of the same support in Iowa in 2012 that Huck won in 2008, though you don’t get the sense too many people are pining for a second act.

It may well be that the leadership of the hard right will let Iowans winnow the field of acceptable candidates and then unite around the most successful survivor. If that’s so, Huck’s got a better chance than most. And he may have an ace in the hole:

In New York last November, [Sheldon] Adelson bestowed Huckabee with the Adelson Defender of Israel award at a Zionist Organization of America dinner in New York, calling the Arkansan “a great person, a great American and a great Zionist.”

Asked if he considers himself well-positioned to win the “Sheldon sweepstakes” in 2016, Huckabee was frank.

“Gee, I would hope so,” he told RCP. “I wouldn’t presume on anyone or anything, but if I did do this, would I love to have his support? Yeah. I don’t want to be subtle.”

Indeed, there’s nothing subtle about Adelson, either. I’m sure he’d love to see at 2016 GOP nominating contest in which candidates seeking an advantage with conservative evangelical voters competed with expressions of total support for whatever Sheldon’s friend Bibi Netanyahu wants to do, ever. And Huck could be just the guy to guarantee that.

My hunch is that if he suddenly starts losing weight again, he’s in.

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.