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Social Conservatives Will Heart Huckabee's 2016 Candidacy

Often derided as just another attention-whoring pretender who's playing footsie with presidential politics for personal gain, Mike Huckabee's impending entry to the 2016 presidential race is no joke.

On Friday night, Fox News viewers were treated to the first stage in the modern Rube Goldberg contraption that is an announcement of a presidential campaign, this time for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (R-Ark.). The actual announcement will come at the very end of a long string of other stages, but Huck began things by explaining to viewers of Huckabee that he was quitting his show so that he could decide whether or not he was going to think about maybe exploring the possibility of running for president in the spring:

Now, I’m not going to make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015. But the continued chatter had put Fox News into a position that just isn’t fair to them, nor is it possible for me to openly determine political and financial support to justify a race. The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox. Now, as much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run. To be clear, I’m not making that announcement right now and my timetable is still just what it was before, later this spring. But I agree with Fox that this is the right thing and now is the right time. Harder than walking away from a generous paycheck from Fox is leaving some of the most incredible people I’ve ever worked with.

So, yeah, that could go either way, right? If it's a yes, though, I've already got his campaign song lined up.

There are a million and one ways to dismiss Huckabee's (likely) candidacy, beginning with his dual status as has-been and also-ran. Huckabee is often spoken of as an opportunistic loser in the Sarah Palin mold, pantomiming political activity for fun and profit, or maybe as a deluded political Norma Desmond, reliving past glories that were never so glorious to begin with. Huckabee had his moment in 2008, but sat out the 2012 presidential campaign in favor of that fat Fox paycheck. At this point, isn't Huckabee about as relevant as a Lost spoiler alert?

The Huckabee news comes on the heels of Jeb Bush's announcement that he might possibly explore the concept of hypothetically running for president as well, and just as a judge in  Florida has ruled that the state's county clerks can start issuing marriage licenses right away. With a hypothetical presidential field of two, here's how half of the Republican candidates reacted to the news:

“It ought be a local decision. I mean, a state decision,” the former governor said Sunday in a brief interview. “The state decided. The people of the state decided. But it’s been overturned by the courts, I guess.”

Set aside the merits of an argument that leaves open the possibility of all sorts of discrimination, and the glum, Eeyore-esque dejection at so many couples getting to realize their dreams of being human, and imagine how that would play on a debate stage next to this guy. Gay marriage is just one of many issues on which Huckabee could potentially drag the Republican field into a a ditch with. Throughout President Obama's two terms, Huckabee has been right in the thick of every batshit wingnut idea, from birtherism to impeachment to libido control, narratives which have helped Republicans maintain their alienation from people other than straight white males and their wives.

By itself, none of that makes Huckabee relevant, but even before his non-announcement announcement, Huck was polling first in some early Republican primary polls, although he's slipped to the middle of the pack recently. Last March, Huck was all by himself in first place in PPP's national poll, and is now tied for 5th in RCP's polling average. That's not too shabby for a guy with no buzz, no organization, and until Friday, no real expressed desire for the job. With the news of his show's end, Huck could easily see a significant bump, making his influence in the race loom larger, but even as it stands, Huckabee stands out from the other mid-to-top-tier candidates because he punches way over his weight class in early primary states, and in heads-up matches with Hillary Clinton.

People also forget that in the last two presidential elections, it was the social conservative who took the silver in the Republican primaries. In 2008, everyone remembers Mitt Romney as the loser to eventual nominee John McCain, but it was Mike Huckabee who outlasted Romney by a few weeks, and accumulated seven more delegates than Romney, while 2012 saw Rick Santorum fall to Romney because he was unable to survive a game of Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Billionaires with Newt Gingrich. This time around, Jeb Bush is the new Romney, unless Romney decides to be the new Romney, but either way, Huckabee is well-positioned to pick up conservatives who are gun-shy about "electability."

There are lots of downsides to Huckabee as a candidate and a nominee, but having him in the race (essentially) this early magnifies the influence he can have on the field. He might not have a chance to win, but Mike Huckabee can show Republicans that there's still plenty of juice left in the old white male conservative battery.