Here Comes Huck the “Populist”

I hadn’t noticed the big Tom Hamburger/Robert Costa WaPo profile of Mike Huckabee as a potential 2016 presidential candidate until my learned friend Sarah Posner tweeted to say she had been wrong in dismissing another Huck candidacy. Actually, Huck seems to be edging up to the failsafe line rather than crossing it; he avowedly doesn’t want to screw up his financially and politically lucrative gig at Fox News until it’s absolutely necessary. He learned anew last week that steps short of a formal announcement can get you bounced when the network dropped Dr. Ben Carson just because he had bought ad time in 22 states informing the country that he was their potential savior.

In any event, you can read the piece and judge for yourself how close Huckabee is to a real campaign. The most interesting thing to me was this line of argument about the man (italics added):

An ordained Southern Baptist preacher with an easy-going demeanor, Huckabee presents himself as both a social conservative and an economic populist…..

[2008 campaign manager Chip] Saltsman, in an interview, said Huckabee would be a formidable opponent for the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in part because he has studied her since their shared Arkansas days. He said Huckabee’s “common touch” and his ability to talk about income inequality would contrast with Clinton.

Now the main foundation for Huck’s reputation as an “economic populist” was his refusal in 2008 to emulate his Republican rivals’ praise for the U.S. economy under the stewardship of George W. Bush as damn near ideal. For his pains he was attacked by the Club for Growth, which he began calling the “Club for Greed.” If he took any actual positions that differed from conservative orthodoxy on economic issues, I missed it.

As for “income inequality….” I’d be interested in hearing what if anything Huck has to say. He’s sure not in favor of more progressive taxation; he’s a big “Fair Tax” guy, devoted to flattening tax rates and moving towards a consumption-based system that would inherently be more regressive. But more to the point, how media folk treat Huck may determine whether the “economic inequality” debate in 2016 is real or entirely symbolic.

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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.