Matt McDaniel

7 minute read

The 2016 Sideshow: Mike Huckabee

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Quick Facts

Former two-term governor of Arkansas from 1996-2007 (Governor Huckabee took over in the middle of the term of the former Democrat Governor who had been convicted of fraud)

Ran for President in 2008 and won the Iowa Caucus and finished third in New Hampshire

Three months after withdrawing from the Presidential primary in 2008, Huckabee became a FoxNews personality, contributor, and eventually hosted his own program

Member of a Rock Band

Former Pastor and President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Has published numerous books including his most recent, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy” [GovMatt aside: Here’s a link to buy it, as I discuss later, it’s probably what Governor Huckabee wants out of this whole thing: http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Grits-Gravy-Mike-Huckabee/dp/1250060990]

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Why is this Person Interesting?

Huckabee was Governor of Arkansas for about a decade during a time of relative prosperity. He was credited with quick response to Hurricane Katrina and made impressive inroads into minority communities. As a Baptist preacher, Huckabee is an effective speaker and has significant clout in the evangelical Christian community. Obviously this clout is exceptionally potent in the Republican Presidential Primaries where social conservatives, especially in early caucuses and primaries can swing a candidate to national prominence.

File:Mike Huckabee at Thomas Road Baptist Church.jpgGovernor Huckabee’s failed run for the White House in 2008 and decision not to elect to run again in the shallow pool of candidates in 2012 may have diminished his name recognition among the Republican base. However, the fact that he retained a position on the FoxNews channel and appears as a regular commentator has certainly mitigated his fade from the Party mainstream. Additionally, Huckabee’s prolific writing, not to mention his current book released in 2015 has increased his prospects of running for President.

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Huckabee is interesting because, if he runs for President, he will effectively pit the religious-evangelical wing of the Party against other social conservatives. While Governor Huckabee certainly doesn’t have the entire evangelical voter base as a lock (note that if Rick Santorum and Ben Carson jump in the mix, this vote will be very hard to predict), but Huckabee does have inroads with Christian leadership. These for-profit “non profits” can certainly push huge amounts of funding into a Huckabee campaign early in the race and propel his candidacy into the Deep South where he has significant support.

A Huckabee campaign is also interesting because its failure will show how pieces of the Party are now firmly outside the desire to be driven by Christian fundamentalists. While each of the potential Republican candidates for President at this point are nominally Christian, large pieces of the Party have been moving away from religious definition to expand the potential voter base. Certainly the nascent libertarian section of the Party is ready to get the platform out of Church and drop planks about opposition to gay marriage and drug laws.

File:Mike Huckabee by Gage Skidmore 3.jpgHuckabee represents, along with a candidate like Rick Santorum, the “media Republican.” By this, Huckabee checks many of the stereotypes that have come to define portions of the Republican Party in the mainstream and internet media. While Huckabee and his supporters rightly can contend that FoxNews’ draw far surpasses any of its liberal rivals and even counters “broadcast” media, it is impossible to escape the social media and internet media portrait of stereotyping. To his credit, Huckabee has not attempted to rebrand or distance himself from the base that supported him. Rather, he has doubled down on his positions and embraced the ideas of the evangelical wing of the Party.

In recent appearances, Huckabee has gone out of his way to make offhand offensive remarks about current pop culture figures. His insinuations about Beyonce and JayZ were not only off-putting but factually incorrect. While calling rap artists “crude” may play well with a segment of the base, these folks were already going to be loyal to a candidate like Huckabee. Rather than make himself look like a national candidate, online news outlets quickly rounded on Huckabee and criticized his comments. While Governor Huckabee’s history clearly shows the man is not a racist, his comments are poor politics. When national public opinion is governed by tweets and sound bites, making such careless statements shows that Governor Huckabee is either playing to a very small audience or has very little message control. Neither of these traits are beneficial in a run for the Presidency.

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Does this Person Have Something to Gain by Running?

Huckabee waited only three months after dropping out of the race for President in 2008 before signing up with FoxNews. Since this time, Huckabee has published four books, including one political treatise on how to fix Washington. Importantly, Huckabee published this book in the run up to the 2012 elections. Cynically, one could argue that Huckabee was capitalizing on the press surrounding his potential bid for the White House in order to market his book.

Notably, Huckabee does have a book currently on sale. [GovMatt aside: Here’s another link to buy it! Starting to get the point of why I think he’s talking about running? http://www.amazon.com/Guns-Grits-Gravy-Mike-Huckabee/dp/1250060990]

While Huckabee has recently left the FoxNews channel, ostensibly to pursue other media angles, a bid for the White House would, once again put him in the national spotlight. However, it seems unlikely that an individual with a brand like Huckabee’s is really a strong contender for the Vice Presidency or a cabinet position.

What Kind of “Perfect Storm” Could Put this Person in the Presidency?

First, Governor Huckabee would have to smash fundraising records and eclipse the other social-conservative candidates before the race even begins. Wielding the mantle of the evangelical right, Huckabee would have to hope that there is enough anger about social issues in the base to be able to use his rhetorical skill to batter the other governors who will likely take an establishment tone. Huckabee would have to win in Iowa and be able to keep funding and message control all the way through the South and into Super Tuesday. He would also have to rely on gaffes from his competitors or such a significant split in the establishment vote to give him enough of a mandate to power into the late game of fundraising. Huckabee would have to win the nomination outright as his brand of social conservatism would not be given a seat at the table at a brokered convention.

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Bottom Line

Mike Huckabee has made himself into a brand. He has doubled down on his Republican-ness and his evangelical roots. As a culture warrior and a critic of modern society, Huckabee has become what mainstream culture has attempted to define the Republican Party to be.

GovMatt’s Opinion: The reason why I have placed Governor Huckabee in the “Sideshow” along with Sarah Palin and a few other of the “might-be” candidates in the 2016 race is because of his recent comments criticizing popular culture. If Huckabee is willing to gamble that incitement is what the base needs to support his candidacy, he has significantly misjudged the political climate in the nation. The Party cannot be mired in the notions and musings of an ex-pastor regardless of their truth or falsity. Mike Huckabee has been out of the mainstream for too long. Unlike John Kasich, who also had a show on FoxNews, Huckabee’s term in office expired before Obama was ever elected. Additionally, I have significant, perhaps cynical, concerns that Huckabee, who is marketing a book and quickly gobbled up a contract after his last run, just sees the race for the White House as an opportunity to get name recognition to market his brand.

There may come a time when Huckabee is raised out of my “Sideshow,” but it is not this early in the game.