by Max Brantley
But the guy’s got a sharp elbow, particularly when it comes to late-campaign tactics. A lot of Republicans could say, “I disagree with the Club for Growth in some areas”; it’s another thing to call them “the Club for Greed.” He announced that he won’t run negative ads, and then, during a press conference, show reporters the negative ad he decided not to run – knowing that the press will effectively transmit the message for free. He’s willing to campaign on his faith – particularly in Iowa – in ways others might find shameless. He’ll stretch the truth when an exaggeration helps him. His opponents will underestimate him and his amiable style right up until the moment he metaphorically kicks them in the crotch.
This may take him far, or it may not. If it doesn’t, there’s a good chance Fox News or some other network will need a host for weekend slot in 2017.
But the fact that this coalition might be Huckabee-ish doesn’t mean that Huckabee himself could put it together in 2016. He is a very talented retail politician, yes, and a strong debater in an era when debates seem to matter a little more than in the past. But to build a winning campaign out of his last run’s raw materials, as Ramesh Ponnuru notes, he would have to win over a number of voters — non-evangelicals, and particularly Catholics — who rejected him as too much of preacher-man in 2008, and based on the choices he’s made since then it’s very hard to see how he would manage that kind of outreach. Like most people who enter the world of infotainment, he’s mostly been diminished by the last six years: Some of the heterodoxies he gestured at in 2008 in domestic and foreign policy have found real champions among younger politicians (Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Rand Paul), while Huck himself has become more conventional or affect-driven on substance and even more cornpone in his associations than during his Chuck Norris-endorsed run. (Given how the big cultural shift on social issues since ’08, and some of his polarizing forays in the last years, it’s also hard to imagine the mainstream media treating him as kindly this time around, subtracting an important element from his 2008 success.)