Mike Huckabee is the Hamlet of the 2012 presidential cycle. The former governor of Arkansas says he really, truly has not decided whether to run for the Republican nomination, and we believe him. He says he’ll decide this summer.
His just-released book, “A Simple Government,” and accompanying book tour – which happens to include six stops in Iowa and five in South Carolina, two early nominating states – would appear to point to “yes.”
But at a tea with reporters Wednesday sponsored by the Monitor, he seemed to plant the seeds for “no.”
First, let’s go through the reasons Mr. Huckabee should go for it: He had a terrific run four years ago, when he ran as an unknown and caught fire with his folksy charm, superior communication skills, and special appeal to religious conservatives, as a former Baptist minister. He won the Iowa caucuses, then came close in South Carolina. A few tweaks here and there, and he could have won the nomination.
Republicans often nominate someone who has tried before. And a Gallup poll released Wednesday put Huckabee in the lead for the nomination among Republican and Republican-leaning independent voters, with 18 percent, ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (16 percent) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (16 percent). Given the size of the potential field, that’s no mean feat.
But Huckabee has an Achilles’ heel that nags at him: money. He’s not good at raising it, by his own admission, and he clearly worries about winding up with an empty bank account – again.
After a career in public service, Huckabee now has a comfortable life as a talk-show host on Fox News, an author, and a well-paid speaker. At the Monitor tea, Huckabee was asked how big a factor his financial success is in his campaign decision.
“Not nearly as much as people might think, because I’ve had nothing, and was pretty doggone content,” Huckabee said.
But he then made it clear that he has, in fact, given his personal finances a fair amount of thought. “You know, the last few years, I’ve certainly done better than I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. "You know, if I have the choice of being, let’s say, better off or abjectly poor, I kind of like better off better.”
“I’d be dishonest if I said I didn’t,” he continued. “But I’m not so enamored with the things that I have that they have me. One of the things, you know, that I’d have to understand is that if I run, you know, I walk away from a pretty good income.”
Huckabee was making the case for waiting as long as possible before quitting his day job to launch a campaign. He says he doesn’t want to walk away any sooner than he has to, because he doesn’t have much savings.
“In order to run for president the last time, I cashed in my life insurance, my annuities,” he said. “You know, I pretty much went through everything that I ever had as an asset that I thought I might one day live on. One thing I committed to myself, my wife, and to God was that if I do this, I’m going to hopefully be in a position where I’m not so completely destitute at the end of it that I have no idea what to do if I get sick, or if I retire, or if I’m retired earlier, have a disability.”
This is a man who was not born rich (like, say, Mr. Romney) and may feel he’s earned a few luxuries in life. Huckabee was invited to be a speaker on a Christian cruise around Alaska from June 5 to 12, and so he and his wife are going. That’s right around when he might be announcing for president – so does that mean he’s really leaning against running? Who knows.
In other interviews this week, Huckabee appeared to psych himself out of running, only to change his tune the next day. On Monday, he told George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that Obama will be “tough to beat.” He continued: “This race is going to be like climbing a ladder pointing toward you, because Barack Obama is going to start this race with a billion dollars.”
There’s the money thing again.
Ultimately, it may be a question of having the fire in the belly. Does Huckabee have it? Hard to tell. And if it’s hard to tell, doesn’t that point to “no”? After all, we’re not hearing the other nonindependently wealthy candidates ruminate about possibly draining their assets to run. They’re just out there getting ready for a campaign.