If former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is to win the GOP nomination in 2016, I believe it will take a combination of factors. I’m going to lay out a pathway for him in order to take it all. It’s going to look like I am giving him advice, but I suspect he will chew on the meat and throw away the bones, to borrow a Southern expression. (I should also note here my special relationship with the governor. He wrote the Foreword for my book, With Christ in the Voting Booth, in 2012. The book was originally going to be about Huckabee and called “He’s Our Guy” based opon the statement of the late Paul Weyrich.) That does not mean I always agree with Huckabee (for example, I disagreed with his tepid endorsement of Mitt Romney). He certainly does not agree with every position I take.
But the race, as I see it, shapes up this way.
1. Iowa must be a priority, as it was in 2008. He won the Iowa Caucuses in 2008 not by running many ads on TV, but by pounding the pavement and shaking hand with thousands of Iowans. Mitt Romney, by contrast, spent millions of dollars on the radio, touting himself as the next Ronald Reagan (more on that, in a bit.) I personally think Huckabee must win Iowa again, but the size of the win does not matter, as much as it did in 2008. There are more quality conservatives running this time. Do I need to list them all? Senators Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Jeb Bush of Florida, Private citizens Author/Doctor Ben Carson, businesswoman Carly Fiorina, and Ambassador John Bolton, and a few others may run besides.
A win matters, and the bigger, the better. I think he needs to finish no lower than 2nd in New Hampshire, and he should beat all other conservatives there. His loss in South Carolina (2008) may have cost him a chance of winning, in 2008. He must place 2nd or 3rd in Florida, only if #1 & #2 are Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. However, all those 2nd place finishes will disappear if he sweeps, or nearly sweeps, the Southern Super Tuesday. He almost has to beat Rick Perry in Texas, his most Herculean task. I know he plans on winning them all. That is good. But he’ll have to spend money and a lot of it, this time around.
2. He shouldn’t invoke Ronald Reagan; he should rather be like Ronald Reagan. Romney did the former in endless radio ads in 2007. Huckabee shouldn’t speak ill of the other candidates. They will surely speak ill of him. He should “keep cool”. Followers of the other candidates may gravitate to Huckabee, if when their favorite drops out and he has defended their guy from unfair attacks. He should be the adult in the room.
3. He should expect questions about his pardons, immigration and tax policy. There is no need to get defensive. Those were not issues that “stuck” in 2008, and I don’t think they will this time, either. He holds reasonable positions on all of them. Likewise, his answers about education are fine
4. Remember how we all hate how the Obama crew blamed Bush for everything? (They still d0.) He shouldn’t make it about Obama or Hillary. The hate Bush crowd on the left couldn’t stop president G W Bush’s re-election in 2004. Huckabee should make it about the U.S. and our place in the world. Of course, if Clinton wins the nomination, he will have to challenge her policies. But he should not tap into the natural hatred shown by many on the right.
5. He should put away the pastor hat. He once said that a question was out of line about evolution. A reporter then pulled him in with a religious question about Romney. He should avoid those pursuits and his fight of the culture wars. Leave that to others. He is about good policies, not what people watch or don’t watch on TV. He might even want some Beyonce fans to vote for him. If he can garner the support on one policy issue and drive people to the polls, the way he almost singlehandedly drove thousands to one restaurant on Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day, he’ll be in.
6. He should not shy away from his talk show days. He won a lot of people over with that. He should let his “wonk” side win out over his “hick” side. Leave the earthy humor for others. He shouldn’t run from his past; in Arkansas or New York (or Florida).
7. He should be transparent. As a young Bible preacher, the first instruction I received about preaching was this: Tell em what your gonna tell em. Then tell ’em. Then, tell ’em what you told ’em. That holds true for politicians, too. Rinse and Repeat.
8. He should let his experience lead the way, which none of the other potential candidates have, in serving as a Governor, running for President, and hosting a national talk show. He should go past the media, even the right wing media, as he did in 2008, and speak directly to the people.
9. He shouldn’t run (nor should any of the others) if he has a skeleton in his closet: anything that would make him drop out, if it were known. Believe me, every closet and laundry basket will be emptied out in this election. In 2008, Huckabee hired a researcher to do dig up dirt on only one candidate: himself. He should do that again.