Fox News Should Suspend Mike Huckabee

Update: After Call For Suspension, Fox News Says It Is “Evaluating” Huckabee's Status

UPDATE: Howard Kurtz tweeted that according to network executive Bill Shine, Fox News is “taking a serious look” at Huckabee's activities and “evaluating his current status.”  

UPDATE 2: CNN's Brian Stelter reported on Huckabee's status at the network and included a more extensive statement from Shine, who said the network plans to meet with Huckabee when he returns next week from overseas:

“We are taking a serious look at Governor Huckabee's recent activity in the political arena and are evaluating his current status,” Shine said in a statement to CNN. “We plan on meeting with him when he returns from his trip overseas.”

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It's time for Fox News to suspend Mike Huckabee's contract as he continues to take steps towards a 2016 presidential run.

A new Washington Post profile reveals that Huckabee is in the early stages of mounting a 2016 campaign, but doing so in a way that deliberately lets him keep his Fox News contract and weekly show. Huckabee's tightrope walk -- essentially running for office but avoiding directly saying so -- once again reveals the farcical nature of the network's relationship with contributors-turned-political candidates.

Last week, Fox severed the contract of contributor Ben Carson after he announced the release of a 40-minute biographical ad that was seen as the "opening salvo" in a 2016 campaign. Discussing Carson's suspension, Fox News media reporter Howard Kurtz said on his show that “a guy who is more or less running for president shouldn't be on a network payroll, which means Fox also faces a decision about former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is openly weighing a White House run as well.”  

Kurtz is right: someone openly discussing a run for the White House “shouldn't be on a nework payroll,” which is why Fox News needs to cut ties with Huckabee.

By any reasonable standard, Huckabee has provided just as much evidence he plans to run for president as Carson. In their November 12 article, Washington Post reporters Robert Costa and Tom Hamburger highlight how Huckabee is “reconnecting with activists and enlisting staff to position himself in a growing field of potential Republican presidential candidates.”

According to Costa and Hamburger, Huckabee's presidential campaign groundwork includes taking an overseas trip with “more than 100 pastors and GOP insiders from early primary states” ; using a political non-profit “as an employment perch for his political team” ; looking for a campaign headquarters in Arkansas; holding “private meetings with powerful GOP financiers” to court their financial support; releasing a new book; and “planning two strategy sessions in December...to discuss timing, potential staffing, and an opening pitch to voters.”

The Post also quotes Huckabee's daughter saying her father's “heart is into it” and that he “can't wait to get back to South Carolina and Iowa.” The Post report follows similar articles from Bloomberg Politics and Real Clear Politics laying out the serious efforts Huckabee and his staff are taking to position the Fox News host for another presidential run. 

Huckabee and his team seem well-aware of the balancing act they need to strike in order to keep his lucrative Fox News platform. As Costa and Hamburger explain, Huckabee's potential candidacy “requires a delicate finesse,” because “Fox News, as a policy, terminates its relationships with commentators who create exploratory committees or otherwise show serious intent to run for office.” Huckabee himself acknowledged to the Post that he has “to be very careful about this,” clarifying that he is “not doing anything official at this point.”

To that end, according to “Republicans familiar with Huckabee's efforts,” his recently-formed America Takes Action non-profit was “designed to allow him to retain his Fox News Channel contract, since the group is not overtly political.”

Real Clear Politics also reported in October that Huckabee is doing his best to keep his Fox show while planning a run:

Asked about his decision-making process this time around, Huckabee sounded conflicted.

“I've got four grandkids, and I really care what's going to happen to them,” he said. “If I were to create an exploratory committee or tell people that I'm going to run, obviously, I've just crossed a threshold, and I'm done [at Fox]. So I've got to be very thoughtful about this. I can't do it lightheartedly. I can't put my toe in the water. I jump in the deep end from Day One or I don't do it.”

While he and his team take advantage of Fox's employment rules, any future political run Huckabee takes will have gotten a big boost from the network. The Post cites Huckabee associates labeling the show “useful to Huckabee's political brand, keeping him in front of Republican primary voters but not turning him into a political celebrity whose every move draws attention. He can counsel candidates, travel, and organize without much notice, all while keeping his name floating across the airwaves on Saturday evenings.”  

Last month, Huckabee himself credited his Fox News show with putting him in Iowa voters' “homes every week.”  

A Fox News spokesperson reportedly told the Post that the network “constantly evaluates the circumstances involving potential candidates.”  At this point, Huckabee and his associates are basically openly gaming Fox News' employee/candidate system and seeing what they can get away with -- clearly gearing up for a run but winking about how nothing is serious yet. If the network is actually serious about not wanting to keep political candidates on its payroll, it should suspend Huckabee.