Huckabee’s gig fraught with danger

Breezy. That’s a word that captures the essence of Mike Huckabee on his new Fox News weekender show. The 2008 GOP runner-up is between gigs, and “Huckabee” is where he’ll hang out until 2012. Being between races is always an awkward place to be, but Huckabee may catch a cold in this breezy new role.

TV will be a kick for the sometime-bassist in search of a gig, certainly more fun than competitor Mitt Romney seems in for. So far, it appears that Romney will spend his days selling off excess family homes and traveling the rubber-chicken circuit, speaking where invited and raising money for others, setting the table for lots of 2012 reciprocity. Even if all the candidates he helps lose, he’ll have more of their time to aid his own presidential bid. In fact, an old pol once told me that the best supporters he ever had — in terms of working hard on his behalf — were losers of other races who saw working for him as their last chance for redemption. So maybe Romney is doing himself a favor, but his journey won’t have that “breezy” air that surrounds Huckabee.

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Thinking about betweener vocations, Huckabee should have looked at some different models. Consider what Jeb Bush did after his 1994 loss to Lawton Chiles while awaiting his 1998 election as governor. Jeb launched the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a not-for-profit public policy organization that is “dedicated to keeping the promise of quality education by advocating reforms that raise standards, increase accountability, provide incentives for success and offer choices …” Jeb’s organization — a serious one that survives today — gave him a platform from which to look gubernatorial in conferences and policymaking on a key issue.

When Illinois’s Jack Ryan was between a career at Goldman Sachs and a bid for the U.S. Senate seat that Barack Obama eventually won, Ryan chose to teach mostly African-American kids at an inner-city high school, Hales Franciscan. His most memorable ad of the 2004 GOP primary pivoted off the specter of a well-heeled Wall Streeter arriving by limo at an imposing high-rise, being greeted by everyone as he cruised the corridors of money and power, when suddenly a door opened and the sweet kids were inside, ready for teacher. My description is hopelessly deficient. It was a terrific ad that skillfully leveraged a betweener career. And he won that primary before resigning over a personal family scandal.

Huckabee could have started an influential website, perhaps an alternative to Arianna’s Huffington Post (The Huckabee Tribune?). He could start a business incubator and venture capital fund to get focused on the economy and job creation, topics that will be huge in four years. He could get cozy with the currently rich and those trying to get rich. Both could help him in 2012, one with money and the other with war stories about being an entrepreneur in the Obama era.

Instead, Huckabee chose show business, where edginess prevails. So between comfortable visits with Lee Greenwood or former Miss Americas, Huckabee gets a curveball like guest Russell Simmons extolling his new hip-hop website. On air, an ever-rebellious Simmons let fly with rap expletives that Fox beeped. Huckabee eventually ended the interview with the proverbial “Thank you, it’s been a pleasure.” Really? Host Huckabee told his studio audience that while he considered Simmons “pleasant” and “thoughtful,” he disagrees with much of what he says. Huckabee then said, curiously, that we “need to hear” from Russell Simmons “because we disagree with him.” That’s media logic that will be lost on GOP primary voters. Huckabee better realize quickly that his opponents have the DVRs rolling and all he says and does will be replayed in 2012.



Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.