Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee bid farewell to his television audience over the weekend, telling viewers that he believes he can no longer ethically host a show while openly pondering a 2016 presidential candidacy. Though that political decision won't come for several months, he said the time has come to walk away from the weekend program he's hosted for the last seven years:
"The continued chatter has put Fox News in a position that just isn't fair to them. Nor is it possible for me to openly determine the political and financial support to justify a race. The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure at Fox. Now, as much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run. To be clear, I'm not making that announcement right now. And my timetable is still just what it was before: Later this spring. But I agree with Fox that this is the right thing, and now is the right time."
Our colleague Noah Rothman at Hot Air interprets Huckabee's announcement as a de facto indication that he's jumping into the fray. That may be a fairly safe bet, but one imagines that the former preacher means what he says as it pertains to testing the money waters to "justify a race," as he put it. Fundraising was a nagging obstacle for Huckabee in his 2008 campaign. Ed Rollins, a mercurial GOP strategist who worked for Huckabee last time around, tells the Washington Post that his former boss couldn't keep up in the cash game, and has yet to prove that he's capable of being a serious national player on that front:
“You’re going to need $150 million to win the nomination, and probably $75 million to get you through Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina,” Ed Rollins, a former Huckabee adviser, said in an interview. “That means 200 to 300 fundraising events and a vast, focused apparatus. Mike didn’t have that last time, and he still has to prove he can develop one.”
The same story quotes a source within Huckabee's operation who says that Team Huck would seek to raise $50 million prior to the Iowa Causes, tentatively scheduled for January 18, 2016. "There is a level of security on our side that the financial support is going to be there this time,” the unnamed source says. Question: If you're not ramping up to jump into the contest, are your aides pushing back against potential negative storylines in a national newspaper? And if tamping down "process" knocks is a public relations priority for the Huckabee organization, they'll also have to develop (in relatively short order) a strategy for countering broadsides from fiscal conservative critics -- whose attitudes range from suspicious to hostile. The Club for Growth's PAC fired an opening salvo in an email blast this morning, which included a link to a long-dormant 2008 attack ad:
“As Mike Huckabee weighs the pros and cons of a second presidential candidacy, he should know that the Club for Growth PAC will make sure that Republican primary voters thoroughly examine his exceptionally poor record of raising taxes and spending as governor,” said Club for Growth President David McIntosh. “In a year in which GOP voters appear likely to have several good pro-economic growth candidates to choose from, Mike Huckabee’s big government record would stand out from the crowd, and not in a good way.”
Rand Paul, who's demonstrated willingness, if not eagerness, to aggressively mix it up with potential rivals, has also gotten in on the action:
I'll leave you with a question from Fox's in-house media critic, Howard Kurtz, who wonders if Huckabee's prominent perch on the top-rated cable news network gives him a leg up heading into the 2016 cycle:
The show certainly helped keep Huckabee's name top-of-mind for a slice of the primary electorate, and allowed the potential candidate to cultivate his "brand" over a period of years. Huckabee is a likable guy who speaks the language of a significant element of the GOP base. Given his decision to split with Fox, it looks as though he'll seek to build upon his decent name recognition, re-introduce himself as a political entity during his forthcoming book tour, and take the plunge in the spring. Stay tuned.