Former governor Mike Huckabee (R., Ark.) implicitly made the case against Senators Ted Cruz (R., Texas), Rand Paul (R., Ky.), or Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) serving as president during a meeting with reporters about the prospect of his own candidacy.
In a roundtable meeting this morning with journalists in Washington, D.C., Huckabee said that he would decide next year whether or not he will run for president, but he already knows he’s unlikely to support any of those freshman senators.
“If not me, I would be supportive of someone who has had executive experience and who has been a governor prior to somebody having only had legislative experience, which I think is fundamentally different in the manner in which one serves,” Huckabee said after describing what it takes to be a commander-in-chief.
“Do you have the capacity, as an executive, to look at the whole battlefield and to see all the issues in play and how they integrate with each other?” he said. “And one of the things that I learned in ten-and-a-half years of being a governor, is that you don’t get to just enjoy the issues that are most endearing to you.”
Huckabee emphasized his executive experience when laying out the case for his candidacy, should he decide to enter the race.
“I believe one thing I’d bring, if I run, is I know how to govern,” he told the group. “I don’t mean to be audacious about it, but when you govern ten-and-a-half years in a state, when I inherited a legislature that was 89 out of 100 Democrats in the house and 31 out of 35 Democrats in the senate, the most lopsided legislature in America — more than any other state, including Massachusetts or Vermont — and you still get, in every session, 90 percent plus of your legislative package passed, I think you get some experience of how do you govern.”
Huckabee denied that he was drawing distinctions between himself and Cruz; asked about Paul’s potential candidacy, he said, “It’d be best not to evaluate people that have not made a decision to run.”
Yet the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses kept making comments that were implicit shots at his potential rivals. For instance, when Huckabee was asked about younger Republicans’ preference for “non-interventionist” foreign policy, he didn’t hesitate to equate that with a libertarian impulse to “isolate” the United States — a characterization Paul always rejects.
“The more libertarian wing tends to be laissez-faire, ‘hey it’s not our problem, this is not our yacht, we don’t need to clean the decks,’” Huckabee said. “One fault of our party is we have not done a good job of communicating to the younger Americans that, like it or not, guys, you can’t isolate yourselves.”
Huckabee also brought the tea-party senators to mind, without mentioning them, while discussing one of the difficulties of his 2008 presidential bid.
“There was nothing guaranteed, there was no job to go back to,” he said. “It wasn’t like I was a senator, still getting my paycheck every month, still getting my health benefits — which, one of the reforms I would love to see implemented is that anybody who holds office and runs for office other than the one they are running to be reelected in would have to resign the office they currently hold in order to seek one they would like to have.”
Paul and Rubio, of course, face reelection campaigns in 2016. Rubio has said that he will not run for both the presidency and the Senate; Paul’s team is working to change a Kentucky law that would force him to run for just one federal office. Cruz will have a “job to go back to” because he isn’t up for reelection until 2018.
When asked how he could repeat his 2008 success in Iowa given the rise of Cruz, Rick Santorum (who won the caucuses in 2012), and Governor Rick Perry (R., Texas), who can also tout his executive experience, Huckabee said he can appeal to a broader electorate.
“If the party wants to nominate somebody who can be very articulate in what we’re against, I’m probably not the best guy at that, but I think that what I can articulate is what we’re for,” he said. “I don’t think you can make people fearful enough and mad enough to get elected. You may make them fearful enough and mad enough, you know, maybe to get exercised and go scream at a rally. But to get them to go vote and to vote for you, I do think you have to give them something that they believe is going to make the election result in a different direction of the government.”
Huckabee may not be tanned, but he’s ready — to throw elbows in the crowded prospective 2016 field.
— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review Online.