Mike Huckabee starts his new book A Simple Government by talking about the family. Its health is not just a moral requirement for a stable society, he writes, but an economic one. He says there is a $300 billion "Dad deficit" because fathers do not care for their children. Two-thirds of the children who live in poverty wouldn't be in poverty, he writes, if their parents were married. The message from the Republican Party lately has mostly been about reducing spending and cutting the budget. Huckabee wants that conversation expanded. "I wanted to stake out a position and say: 'Please don't tell me that social conservatism is irrelevant. It is connected to economic conservatism.' "
With such a focus on the family, he was upset at the president's decision on Wednesday not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. He sees the decision as a shift to a broader support for gay marriage (which Obama still does not support). "He himself didn't take this position when he ran for president," Huckabee told me in an interview. "I think if he had, he wouldn't be president. … I don't think the president sits down and says. 'Hmm, let's destroy the family.' I mean, I don't think that. I think he thinks he's either got to do this for political reasons or maybe he really believes it—I don't know. But I do know there is a definite economic impact of the breakup of families in this country," he says. "One decision isn't going to destroy the family, the family's pretty strong. It may destroy him, may destroy his credibility, may destroy his campaign and candidacy and ultimately his term in office."
In polls of possible Republican presidential candidates, Huckabee is tied for the lead. In a recent Gallup poll his standing has been improving. But unlike Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, who are neck deep in the presidential swim but just won't admit it, Huckabee appears at times to be on dry land clutching his towel. "Someone said, 'He acts like he doesn't want to run,' " he said. "I would put it this way: I don't want to lose."
On the one hand Huckabee has embarked on a 41-city tour to sell his book. Such a tour is a prerequisite for any presidential campaign. He also sounds like a candidate when he says things like this: "Social conservatives are economic conservatives. Not all economic conservatives would call themselves social conservatives. Those of us who can deliver the whole package are the most conservative because we don't limit it to the very rigid economic issues." Later he boasts about governors as the only kinds of politicians with complete experience. And lest that be interpreted as a boost for one of the other governors running, Huckabee says he doesn't yet see anyone in the race who sufficiently fits the bill.
On the other hand, he frets about the costs of running for office. He's been through it before, he says, and he knows how brutal it is. He wants to know before he starts that he can win, and that there is a market for his ideas.
He doesn't just want nods of assent. He wants money. "If I run, I walk away from a pretty good income, so I don't want to walk away any sooner than I have to," he says. "I don't have a lot of reserve built up. Most of my life has been in public service. … One thing I committed to myself, my wife, and to God is if I'm going to do this, I'm hopefully going to be in a position that I'm not going to be completely destitute by the end of it. I have no idea what to do if I get sick or retire or have a disability."