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He is on the second day of a 41-day book tour, and the potential GOP presidential field is narrowing by the day, but don’t hold your breath waiting for Mike Huckabee to announce his plans for 2012.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, the former Arkansas governor turned 2008 Republican presidential candidate turned Fox News contributor acknowledged that his newly achieved wealth is a factor as he considers whether to seek the presidency. But he also offered very few clearly formed policy decisions, suggesting that his intentions are far from formalized.
“If I run, I walk away from a pretty good income. I don’t want to walk away any sooner than I have to because frankly, I don’t have a lot of reserve built up. Most of my life was in public service. Therefore I didn’t come away wealthy,” he said during an afternoon tea organized by the Christian Science Monitor.
“In order to run for president last time, I cashed in my life insurance, my annuities, I pretty much went through everything that I ever had as an asset that I thought I might someday live on. One thing I committed to myself, to my wife and God, was that if I do this I’m hopefully going to be in a position that I’m not so completely destitute at the end of it, that I have no idea what to do if I get sick. ...”
Huckabee, 55 and an ordained Southern Baptist minister, went so far as to say it was “stupid” to get into the race too early, noting that the sooner a candidate jumps in, the sooner he or she has to pay for the related campaign apparatus. And it was clear, based on some of his answers, that the prospective candidate hadn’t yet crafted talking points on issues such as Afghanistan, the Wisconsin labor dispute or even taxes.
“I don’t know. The honest answer is that I don’t think any of us knows exactly,” he said when asked what should be done in Afghanistan.
“You go to Afghanistan, you look around and ask, ‘Am I in a country or am I on the surface of the moon?’” he continued, adding that he visited the country in 2006. “You can’t grow anything but poppies. ... The government is so incredibly and hopelessly corrupt, and I don’t see that changing. I don’t know of anyone who says, ‘What a great bunch of people we have over there running things.’”
On the labor dispute in Wisconsin, Huckabee was asked whether he supported Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to eliminate collective bargaining for state employees. He wouldn’t say yes or no, offering this answer instead: “If not eliminated, it needs to be contained.”
At the same time, Huckabee offered encouraging words to the Republican governor: “Hang tough, stand tall, hold your ground.”
And when pressed to comment on the recommendations of the Obama administration’s deficit-reduction panel, which including deep spending cuts and tax increases, Huckabee said he favored focusing on spending cuts first. But he would not rule out support for eventual tax increases.
“There are three ways to answer a question,” he said when pressed on taxes. “Yes; no; not now. This is a not now.”
As one might expect, Huckabee was most confident when discussing social issues, although he criticized the media for labeling him as the evangelical candidate during the 2008 race. Still, he said the first chapter of his new book was devoted to social issues.
Asked about the Obama administration’s decision Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, Huckabee said he was disappointed, noting that individual states have repeatedly voted against allowing gay marriage.
“What is it the president believes he knows that citizens in all these other states don’t?” Huckabee asked. “I find it very disappointing at a time when the economy and world affairs are exploding, the Justice Department would decide that this is what they’re going to put on the plate today.”
And in one of the few surprises of his hourlong discussion, Huckabee declared support for first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against obesity, often attacked by various conservative commentators, including potential presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Huckabee very publicly ran his own anti-obesity campaign when he was governor of Arkansas and lost more than 100 pounds.
The attacks on the first lady are largely a reflex, Huckabee told reporters, reflecting the polarized political climate.
“She’s been criticized unfairly by a lot of my fellow conservatives,” he said. “Rather than criticizing her, we should be praising her.”
And in case there was any doubt Huckabee lacked the confidence to make a second run at the White House, he repeated a comment he made on Fox News earlier in the week:
“I think he can be defeated,” Huckabee said of President Barack Obama. “And I think I could do it.”