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Mulling 2016 Run, Huckabee Bones Up on Foreign Policy

Mulling 2016 Run, Huckabee Bones Up on Foreign Policy

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - September 15, 2014

As Mike Huckabee weighs another run for president, he focused these days on foreign policy -- an issue seeping into this year’s midterm contests and putting a special spotlight on the Republican Party ahead of a wide-open presidential primary in 2016.

At a roundtable Monday with a group of reporters, the former Arkansas governor and pastor began the conversation by recalling a recent trip he took to Israel -- his third this year.

“I’m again reminded it’s really the only real and true friend and ally we have in the Middle East,” he said, before launching into criticism of President Obama’s handling and perceived understanding of the situation in Gaza and the increasing threats in Iraq and Syria.

The conversation starter was a notable one for Huckabee, who is best known in presidential politics as a conservative Christian. He now splits his time between New York City, where he is on contract with Fox News, and Florida, where he and his wife now live. Huckabee said he would make a decision about whether to run for the Republican nomination by the second quarter of next year. In the meantime, he is boning up on foreign policy, getting regular advice from a “host of people” including current and former military and intelligence personnel.

Huckabee was critical of the administration ruling out sending U.S. ground troops to the Middle East. “Never publically announce what you’re not going to do. I think you’ve got to consider everything,” he said.

Huckabee’s credential-polishing comes as foreign policy makes a comeback on the national debate stage, following two elections cycles in which the economy held sway. The growing terrorist threats to the United States by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, sometimes called ISIS) have put the issue front and center in Congress just weeks before the midterms, with growing interest and concern among the public.

Combating the crisis is a task that will outlast this presidency and this Congress and thus figures to spill into the next presidential contest. Intervention abroad continues to divide Democrats, but Republicans are also having an internal debate, with a growing libertarian streak present in Congress and among voters, especially young ones.

“I don’t think we’ve done an adequate job of explaining to younger people that what is happening in the Middle East is not limited to the Middle East,” he said. “Everything [ISIL] is doing there is the warm-up act to what they plan to do here.”

When asked who in the Republican Party right now can lead effectively on foreign policy, Huckabee declined to name a roster.

"I don't believe a person in the chief executive's role is necessarily an encyclopedia for naming all the names of the foreign leaders and being able to point to the capitals on the map, as much as it is to process information: Is he willing to take the analyses of the people who've spent their entire lives becoming absolute experts and analyzing, then having good judgment?" he said.

Could Huckabee be that person? Yes, he said, citing his decade of executive experience as governor of Arkansas. “I think it comes down to: Do you have an understanding of the world and the dangers we face? Do you have the capacity as an executive to look at the whole battlefield and see all the issues in place and how they integrate with each other?”

Huckabee’s conservative-Christian bona fides have helped make him a favorite in Iowa, where he continues to lead in several polls. But he is beginning to feel frustrated by constantly being cast and covered as a Baptist pastor. “I don’t know any other person that’s run for office and all the questions relate to what he did 25 years earlier, and none to what he’s been doing for the last 25,” he said. “That’s something that’s inexplicable to me. But I served in elected office longer than I served in the church.”

Huckabee says the environment for him now is very different than it was in 2008 (when he ran) and 2012 (when he thought doing so). He said he has stronger name identification and donors. He recently launched a political action committee. He insisted that he would do a good job showing what the party is for, not what it is against -- a criticism of and a challenge for the GOP.
Among the other credentials he listed for himself is his familiarity with Hillary Clinton.

When asked about the Democrat’s potential run for the White House, Huckabee said no Republican knows her better than he does, given their Arkansas connections. He described her as “smart” and “tough,” and cautioned that she should never be underestimated.

“She’s a policy genius,” he said. “But I don't know if she has that same affable charm that her husband does. But then, who does?" 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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