Politico dubs Mike Huckabee “the populist 1 percenter”: 

Mike Huckabee was not a millionaire when he ran for president in 2008, and liked to let people know it during his underdog campaign against wealthy rivals like John McCain and Mitt Romney.

“I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night,” he quipped.

Now, after hosting his own Fox News show and a syndicated radio program, while authoring several books, the former governor is solidly – and, some would say, ostentatiously — a part of the one percent.

There’s the 10,900-square-foot beachfront mansion he built on Florida’s Panhandle, worth more than $3 million. There are regular trips on private jets, often to elite events at which he has given countless paid speeches.

This makes his claims today that he’s the blue-collar candidate a bit much, but just because he’s rich doesn’t mean he can’t make an argument for economic populism. I think the real story here is that Huckabee’s entire career in politics has been partially devoted to promoting not just evangelical populism but also ensuring a lavish lifestyle for himself. Politico doesn’t come out and say this but part of the reason that Huckabee is much richer than when he ran for president in 2008 is precisely because he ran for president. He was able to translate the publicity from running into a multi-million-dollar career as a conservative entertainer. He has long been a master of outlandish statements designed to get him more attention; nothing grabs attention quite like running for president. More attention means more book sales, more TV deals, and who knows what else. Never underestimate the Huckster’s knack for monetizing himself. 


Can he actually win? The polling wonks at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight think that Huckabee is likely doomed to repeat his 2008 performance: “there’s evidence that the fatal flaw of his 2008 run — namely, an inability to widen his appeal beyond born-again and evangelical Christians — hasn’t gone away.”

This analysis from FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten looks right to me:


Even though Huckabee’s overall ideology rating places him firmly in the Republican mainstream, he has major problems with economic conservatives. He called for raising taxes numerous times as governor — the Cato Institute gave him a lifetime D grade (compared to Bush’s B). And the Club for Growth, which went after Huckabee hard during the 2008 campaign, has threatened to air ads pointing out Huckabee’s transgressions on taxes.

To win in 2016, Huckabee would need to convince economic conservatives that he’s seen the light. Will he? I seriously doubt it. In his opening campaign ad, he came out strongly for protecting Medicare and Social Security, even as the relatively moderate Bush has called for raising the retirement age for Social Security. In fact, Huckabee has actually shifted left on the issue since 2008. Huckabee’s position may be a winner in a general election, but it’s not the way to win over skeptical Republican party actors in a primary.

If he can’t win over country-club Republicans, Huckabee may be limited to a base of Southern conservatives, just as he was in 2008.

And of course the Club for Growth has already shown that they’ll spend big to stock any Huckmentum, with an ad ready to go and set to start airing tomorrow. As a side note, I think it’s interesting that Huckabee’s economic populism plays with dead-red-Republican evangelicals. But those rhetorical flourishes (and in the case of Social Security and Medicare, real substantive differences) simply run counter to a party that has tax cuts for the rich as its organizing principle — even if in a vacuum they hold more appeal to some base voters than you might think. You can get an awful lot of votes ignoring the fat cats, but the fat cats have an awful lot of money to portray you as a RINO. Again, sounds like a repeat of 2008. 

But would such a repeat spell doom for the Huckster? I don’t think so! Remember the 2008 campaign made him filthy rich. He’s folksy and he says crazy stuff. The media is going to give him all kinds of coverage. The Club for Growth and liberals will slam him. Huckabee will play the martyr routine. He’ll get more attention and more fans among evangelical consumers of Huckabee’s brand of politics. Huckabee in the White House? Nope. But maybe he can upgrade to an even more extravagant mansion in Florida.