I have a theory on why Mike Huckabee left a six-figure job at Fox News, abandoned his position as a syndicated radio host who reached millions of Americans on drive time radio, and put a lucrative public speaking career on hold. It will shock many to their very core. But before I get to that, I’ll begin by examining some of the alternate theories out there to explain this phenomenon.
First, we have the idea that for Huckabee (and Rick Santorum) the Presidential campaign is all ratings and making money. Writing at the Say Anything Blog, pundit Rob Port declares that Huckabee and Santorum are “political celebrities” who “owe their fame to saying intemperate things on cable news and who aren’t so much campaigning to become president as to expand their fame so that they can sell more books, book more speaking engagements, add more subscribers to their communications lists, and perhaps sign or renew a contract as a Fox News contributor.”
Port ignores the fact that, before he landed in the media, Huckabee spent ten and a half years as Governor of a State that was solidly Democratic in everything but Presidential races and served as Chairman of the National Governor’s Association. Santorum was a two-term U.S. Senator with experience in foreign policy who rose to the Republican leadership. Port further undermines his argument’s credibility by declaring one-term Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz “people with real political resumes who have engaged in the actual work of policymaking and have a real chance to become president.”
First, while Huckabee and Santorum can boast a bevy of accomplishments from Huckabee signing the first broad-based tax relief in Arkansas history, to Santorum’s sponsorship of Welfare Reform, none of these three Senators have any substantive policy accomplishments within the U.S. Senate, and both Cruz and Paul have spent most of their time in that body laying the groundwork for this campaign.
Beyond that though, the idea of someone committing themselves to a year of campaigning and crisscrossing the early primary states in the hopes of building their media profile and increasing long-term speaking fees is a bit daft. In Huckabee’s case, this has required him to end his multi-hour radio program, his weekly TV show, and his daily broadcast to 600 stations across America. But according to Mr. Port, what we’re witnessing is a clever scheme to build your media profile by disassembling a nationwide media network to pursue a presidential campaign that will serve to drain your financial resources.
Pundits who promote this idea act like Huckabee is some Machiavellian genius manipulating tens of thousands to support him for President only to forward his own media career, but such a scheme is one only an idiot would pursue. If Huckabee simply wanted to raise his profile during the Presidential campaign season, he could do so easily without running. In 2012, he hosted two “Huckabee forums” in which every candidate was questioned on serious issues as opposed to all the nonsense that dominated national debates, thus raising Huckabee’s stature and his show’s ratings.
Then, we have talk show host Glenn Beck, whose loathing of Mike Huckabee dates back to December 2007. His theory? “I think he’s being put in as a spoiler. I think that’s the only thing. I really do. I think he’s there because he’ll pull religious votes away from Ted Cruz. And that’s the one that big government progressives are afraid of.”
This creates a continuity problem. Huckabee dropped hints about a second campaign in Do the Right Thing, his first book written in late 2008, that predates Mr. Cruz getting elected to his office by four years. And Huckabee has quietly maintained a network of friends and contacts that could support a second bid for the White House from 2008 and on. If Huckabee is only running to thwart Ted Cruz, then he had to have knowledge of Cruz’s 2016 campaign dating back before Mr. Cruz ran for Senate. That would require Huckabee to have had contact with time travelers.
Beyond that, there may have been a time in American political history where such ulterior motives made sense. Running for President used to be a whole lot easier back when it meant allowing your name to be put in for nomination at the Republican Convention. Now running for President involves spending tons of time raising money, living under a microscope, and constant flights in and out to far-flung campaign stops. It’s a year away from family, friends, and the comforts of a normal life. To think anyone would do that just to thwart someone else’s ambitions is insanely cynical.
The charge is nonsensical gossip, as is the allegation that Huckabee is going to all this trouble to become Vice-President or Secretary of Health and Human Services. As much as it would comfort Mr. Beck and many other conservatives to believe a GOP establishment cabal uses stalking horse presidential candidates to thwart the conservative movement, we have shown over the decades that we’re capable of thwarting ourselves. We’ll continue to do so as long as we imagine fantastic conspiracy theories to help explain away our own failures.
My theory for why Huckabee is running for President is different. I allege that Mike Huckabee is running for President because he believes he would be a good President and he thinks he can win the nomination and the general election. But the problem with this theory is the pundits are convinced Mr. Huckabee has no chance of winning at all.
But is that really a problem? The media counted Huckabee out in 2008, and he won Iowa, and came within a hair’s breadth of winning South Carolina. Given how much the media and the political establishment underestimated him in the past, there’s little reason for Huckabee to listen to naysayers this time around, and a very powerful reason for him to ignore them.
While the pundits gush over Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Scott Walker, history favors Huckabee, Santorum, and Jeb Bush. From 1968 and on, the GOP has nominated former presidential candidates who performed well during their prior campaigns, sitting presidents, and the scion of a well-known political dynasty. Huckabee and Santorum fit into the first category and Jeb Bush fits into the last.
Cruz, Rubio, Walker, Rand Paul, and the rest are all running against the tendencies and temperament of the Republican electorate. While political junkies and the news media thrill to each new candidate to announce, history shows that when the rank and file GOP voters focus on the presidential race, historically, they have been unimpressed with “fresh blood” and “new candidates” and have gone with the known quantities who are tried and true.
This isn’t to say past performance will dictate the future, but it does say there’s a good reason for Huckabee to believe he’ll be a serious contender long after many others have fallen away. Many of the excited bloggers who exalt the trio of Freshman senators and Scott Walker once were singing the praises of Tim Pawlenty (who dropped out after the Iowa Straw poll) while Glenn Beck spent much of 2011 trumpeting Michelle Bachmann, whose campaign didn’t make it to New Hampshire.
You can choose to believe a candidate can thwart the historical tendencies of how Republicans vote. In every Republican presidential contest in which I’ve participated, I’ve supported candidates whose victories would go against that historic precedent, and I sympathize with those who, on principle, are supporting candidates who would have to run against that history to win in 2016. What I don’t sympathize with is spreading unfounded cynical gossip. There’s enough real issues in politics that can make us cynical without making stuff up.