For weeks Mike Huckabee has avoided Tim Russert while touring the Sunday-morning talk-show circuit. NBC’s Washington bureau chief has lobbied hard to get Huckabee on Meet the Press , but Huckabee has shied away from Russert’s withering Q&A.
Until now. Huckabee is going live on the show this Sunday (as is Barack Obama), four days before the Iowa caucuses. His comments with Russert will likely be his final narrative before Iowans vote, so his appearance is a major gamble. If Russert lands a few blows—which, with Huckabee’s record, is likely—the always-fluid Republican race will be shaken and stirred once again. A preemptive look at who has the most at stake.
Romney’s Iowa staffers must be salivating in anticipation. Romney survived Russert’s barrage relatively well (only his Martin Luther King comments have
come back to bite him
), and it’s likely that Russert will push Huckabee on many of the attack points Romney uses against the Huckster. Russert then becomes the attack dog, which legitimizes Romney’s criticism and makes him less of a meanie.
Russert’s research staff: Talk about rich source material. Just some of the juicy topics from Huckabee’s past: the Wayne Dumond case, in-state tuition , questionable promotions , the Club for Growth’s scorn , a pro-Huckabee group’s dirty tricks , borderline-morbid Huckabeeisms , and a quarantine for people with AIDS .
Huckabee’s ego: How many televangelists-in-the-making don’t love a national audience?
Huckabee’s political chances: In the media world, Huckabee has reached the point of diminishing returns. The potential negatives of Sunday’s interview far outweigh the positives. Media sharks are going to be circling their TVs, waiting for the slightest hint of weakness from Huckabee. Once Russert draws blood, every Huckabee story for four days is going to mention his MTP appearance. Will those stories enter the caucus-goer zeitgeist? Romney and Fred Thompson will make sure they do.
Even if Huckabee breezes through the interview, what does that prove? We already know he can hang with the big boys, so he no longer needs street cred among Beltway elites. He needs an organization on the ground, something Russert can’t provide.
John McCain and Rudy Giuliani: Both of them need a weakened Romney to stumble out of Iowa, which means they need Huckabee to hold strong. If Romney wins Iowa, he’ll likely win New Hampshire, therefore dooming McCain. With a win in New Hampshire, he’ll stay strong through Feb. 5, hurting Giuliani.