Glance atop the polls for 2012 and you’ll see a familiar list of Republican contenders: Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich. Romney is as close to a sure bet as you can find. Gingrich’s propensity for throwing the rhetorical grenade at President Obama and his frequent trips to early primary states all point to a run. Even the unpredictable Sarah Palin is leaving a trail of verbal clues that lead her supporters and detractors to believe that she is inclined towards running for the grand prize.
However, Huckabee’s intentions remain more of an open mystery than some of his would-be rivals.
Despite polls showing him to be a regular fixture among the top tier of candidates, Huckabee genuinely seems like a conflicted man. Like many other prospective candidates, he has been vocal and adamant in his opposition to the Obama Way. But unlike other candidates, Huckabee has not put in place the necessary infrastructure for making a serious run. (See Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty).
The uncertainty regarding his future is padded by staunch resentment towards the entire presidential process.
“It’s almost like a reality show,” Huckabee told the New Yorker back in June, referring to the lack of substance in modern-day presidential politics. That may be true. But Huckabee proved an able manager of the circus. His quick wit, southern charm, and thoughtful anecdotes displayed during the primary debates catapulted him from also-ran to lovable underdog. His upset in Iowa was a testament to his commendable communication skills and genial personality.
But even his fine performances, both in the press and onstage, couldn’t persuade skeptics within the Republican establishment or heavyweight voices in talk radio of his conservative bona fides. “What bothered me more than anything was the disdain that I experienced from the elite,” Huckabee told the New Yorker. “They treated me like a total hick.”
While a shortage of ideological conviction contributed to the rift between Huckabee and segments of the GOP, there was another component: the perception that he lacked intellectual strength. In some respects, Huckabee was Sarah Palin before Sarah Palin. Acknowledged for his uncanny gift of drawing in a crowd with nothing but his folksy presence and some cool licks on a bass guitar, but dismissed as an unserious man pursuing a hyper-serious office.
Ideological attacks and subtle digs at his lack of Ivy League pedigree certainly got under Huckabee’s skin. But the enormous amount of money it takes to even contend for the presidency seems to have rubbed him the wrong way too. He recently explained to Fox News that presidential politics is “more about the money than it is the message.” Huckabee’s bank account, or lack thereof, hampered his 2008 candidacy. After Iowa, he had momentum but not the heavy dough necessary to capitalize on it in other important primary states.
Running for president requires a strong gut to do the necessary things. For Huckabee, that would include taking the tough punches your opponents throw your way; mending fences with less-than-friendly forces in the GOP establishment; and hitting the fundraising circuit to give your candidacy a chance of survival. The former Arkansas governor’s recent critiques of the presidential process are hardly reflective of someone interested in grinding it out for the prize of party standard-bearer.
If Huckabee decides to stay on the sidelines in 2012, it will be hard to fault him. He’s done well for himself since 2008. His gig at Fox News has earned him a hit show and the chance to be a ubiquitous presence on the network’s airwaves as a contributor. And just to prove that his talents aren’t restricted to the tube, he’s even donned the cap of prolific author, writing a trio of feel-good books following his presidential foray.
It sure beats the hostile jabs of Beltway Republicans or the brazen taunts of Rush Limbaugh. The fruits of such unchallenged and complete success may be too much to part with.
Aaron Guerrero is a 2009 UC Davis graduate who majored in political science and minored in history. He formerly interned for Rep. Dan Lungren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and is a freelance writer.