US News & World Report

By Nicole Hemmer

When Mike Huckabee announced Saturday that he was quitting his eponymous Fox News show to consider a presidential run, he joined a small but significant group of Republican politicians who have had to make the choice between lucrative media contracts and ambitions for higher office. Like former Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and ex-Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., who left Fox in order to run for president in 2012, Huckabee has little chance to secure the nomination. But a Huckabee candidacy could provide a useful lesson for future GOP hopefuls: The road to the White House does not run through Fox News’ HR offices.

Huckabee, who left the Arkansas governor’s office in 2007 and ran for president in 2008, has spent the years since almost exclusively dedicated to media endeavors. He moved seamlessly from presidential candidate to Fox News personality, getting his own show on the network just a few months after being hired as a commentator. He began providing radio commentary at the start of 2009, and has published five books since 2008.

The media work has made him wealthy, but it has not made him a better candidate for president. He has not delivered major policy addresses or worked with policy groups. He has not been a player in local or national politics, only occasionally stumping for fellow Republicans on the campaign trail. In 2012 he chose not to run for president. Ed Rollins, the national chairman of Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, said at the time, “I think over the last couple years, he's developed a lifestyle he likes. He's making money, publishing books, he has his show.” The actual work of governing didn’t seem to appeal to Huckabee any more than it did for fellow commentator and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who also sat out the 2012 race.

Being out of office is not a deal-breaker for presidential candidates, of course. The question is how they spend that time. Richard Nixon spent his wilderness years traveling around the world meeting with foreign leaders, developing an encyclopedic knowledge of international relations. According to Ronald Reagan biographer Craig Shirley, the future 40th president delivered 13 major policy speeches in a single month after his failed 1976 presidential bid. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has spent his years out of office working with education reform groups to burnish his policy credentials. Each candidate’s out-of-office experiences enhanced their plausibility as a presidential candidate, something Huckabee’s on-air persona — and the controversies he invited — has not.

Nor is media work a deal-breaker for a presidential hopeful, though it is more rare. Reagan, of course, made his name in Hollywood before moving into politics. After leaving the California governor’s office in 1975, he started a radio program that he suspended whenever actively running for president.

In Huckabee’s case, the choice to pursue a media career instead of political work is the real problem. Should he choose to run, he will likely join a robust field of conservative politicians who have spent the last few years actually governing. While Huckabee was entertaining audiences on his Saturday night show, Governors Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Rick Perry of Texas have been running states. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was championing obstructionism in the Senate. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., was working to expand the party’s base. Huckabee likely still has influence with evangelical voters, but as Aaron Blake at the Washington Post pointed out, “There quite simply aren't enough evangelicals out there.”

Not only are there not enough evangelicals, but unlike in 2008, Huckabee won’t be the only candidate who appeals to the evangelical vote. Potential candidates like Cruz, Perry and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal not only speak evangelicals’ language, but they also have recent records to demonstrate their commitment to conservative values. Set up against candidates like these, it will quickly become clear that a career in conservative media has made Huckabee the candidate of rhetoric, not reform. Some candidates have begun treating campaigns as audition reels for well-paid commentary positions; Huckabee will most likely prove an object lesson in the limits of that career path.

This article was originally published in the US News & World Report