Huckabee's Strategy

David Hill, at the Hill newspaper, alleges that Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has an extreme risk of “catching a cold” in his “breezy” role as host of Fox News’ snow, Huckabee. Hill contends that Huckabee is entering the world of entertainment, while Mitt Romney is out doing what Presidential candidates should do: giving speeches and campaigning for Republicans.

Rarely has a piece been so deserving of a Jim Cramer style, “You know nothing!

First of all, Huckabee is giving speeches, campaigning for Republican candidates, and fundraising for them, too. He campaigned for Saxby Chambliss and has announced plans to campaign for Virginia Attorney Bob McDonnell in his bid for Governor. Huckabee’s TV gig requires one day a week in New York. Also Huckabee’s going to South Carolina for a Fair Tax rally. Huckabee isn’t spending the other six days fishing the lovely rivers and streams of Arkansas.

It’s doubtful that any of the potential 2012 candidates have a 2012 strategy at present,  because it’s too early to know for sure they’ll run in 2012. However, in his book Do the Right Thing, Huckabee writes that he began in 2008 with no organization, no name recognition, and no money. He’d not prepared sufficiently for what a presidential campaign would take.

To even have a chance of making a serious run for the White House, a person must have what I call a leadership strategy. They must advance their ideas and issues within the Republican Party and put themselves in a position where, if they run for President, they are known, they have money, and they have organization.

Romney’s strategy is fairly traditional. He’s delivering speeches to Congress, State Party Conventions, and conservative group conventions. He’s got a PAC, and he’s raising money. Romney’s got a 1977 strategy, which would be great if this were 1977. His efforts have focused on the establishment leaders of the conservative movement and state party leadership, groups that he already did quite well with in 2008. His 20% straw poll win at CPAC in 2009 is almost identical to the 21% he got 2 years ago.

Huckabee is taking a different path. Huckabee’s not only has a PAC, which has contributed to the campaigns of more than fifty Republican candidates, he’s doubling down in a way that Mitt Romney, or even Sarah Palin, isn’t. Last month, Huckabee’s PAC, “HuckPAC” held more than 100 house parties all across America. Huckabee already has 3000 volunteers (including myself) signed up to help out Republican Candidate in the 2009 and 2010 elections.

He also realizes he needs to reach out to the people that he failed to reach last time and improve his standing with conservatives who remain doubtful of him.

Huckabee’s media ventures are part of this leadership strategy. Huckabee’s show is far more infotainment than entertainment, with his songs and entertainment interviews sandwiched in between serious, but civil, discussions of politics and culture. The show has had some awkward moments, but nothing on the scale of Ronald Reagan “monkeying around” in Bedtime for Bonzo in terms of breeches of dignity.

One viewer complained when Huckabee dubbed the recent stimulus bill as “The Congressional Relief Action Program,” with the initials emphasized, but the same line earned applause at CPAC. Some alleged that Huckabee was undignified in a segment in which he made fun of Caroline Kennedy’s “Uh-uh-uh” interview problems. However, making fun of a Kennedy is unlikely to cost Huckabee any votes in the Republican Party.

Combined with Huckabee’s 3-minute thrice daily radio program as well as other media appearances, his TV show has four benefits:

1) Becoming better known.

In 2007, many voters decided that they liked Huckabee. What put a ceiling on his support was that he was so unknown he could be cast as a liberal tax-raiser by people far better known than he. He also could be cast in the mold of the stereotypical conservative evangelical preacher: intolerant, narrow-minded, and stupid.

2) Recasting himself.

The Premiere of Huckabee, set towards the end of the 2008 Presidential Campaign and around the time of bailouts, has allowed Huckabee to define himself as a fiscal conservative. Hardcore opponents of the TARP bill saw Huckabee stand up against big government when only he, Dave Ramsey, Ron Paul, and Neil Cavuto would oppose the TARP debacle on the Fox Business Network. Huckabee also opposed the auto industry bailout and lampooned the stimulus bill. On his radio program, Huckabee has taken a similar tact on earmarks, global warming, and the president’s tax plan. To those who will try to define Huckabee as some type of liberal after two plus years of Huckabee consistently taking conservative position on TV and Radio: Good luck.

3) Getting to show his character and personal style.

Through his choice of guests, he’s able to show himself willing to listen to and dialogue with a wide variety of people, while still sticking to his conservative guns.

4) Establishing connections with his audience and his guests.

Huckabee’s media ventures have opened the door for him to make numerous connections with people like Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore and Dave Ramsey. While not everyone who appears on Huckabee’s program will become a supporter of Huckabee’s future efforts, having made a personal connection will help.

Overall, Huckabee’s media efforts have gone well. He’s got a New York Times Bestseller, one of the top weekend Cable TV shows, and a radio show that’s now on more than 100 stations. Whether Huckabee runs in 2012 or not, of the three front-running candidates, he has by far done the most to help his future efforts.