The big question around the Republican reconstruction effort seems to me to be, if enough people in the media pretend that Mike Huckabee doesn't exist, will he actually disappear?
They omit him from popularity polls that include Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney, he's never mentioned in rundowns of potential candidates by anyone. When anybody notices this, they usually attribute it to a retreat from the religious right. (Which makes no sense if you've ever actually paid any attention to Huckabee's positions. Yes, they're largely consistent with what the religious right wants. But Sarah Palin's are even more so, and for some strange reason people actually still seem to think she's a worth contender for the Presidency.)
But here's the thing: Huckabee is popular. People like him. (Maybe that scares people. Maybe he knows this.)
I disagree with Mike Huckabee about a lot of things -- probably almost everything of any importance -- and I very emphatically do not want him as my president. But you know what? I like the guy. I like watching him in interviews, or on SNL, or wherever. He's amusing: sharp, quick-witted. And he generally interacts with people on a level of personal respect, which sets him way apart from the mass of Republican "contenders." My read on Huckabee (which is probably worth nothing, but what the hell) is that he's a smart pragmatic idealist: He has deeply-held beliefs, and he's willing to engage in some horse-trading to further the aims that those beliefs lead him toward. But he's not very willing to compromise those core beliefs in the process.
In that, he's very much like Barack Obama.
Ultimately I think that might be the problem, not the conservatism: He's too much like Obama. Republican strategists haven't yet gotten to the point of really understanding their enemy enough to adopt and adapt his tactics (I could argue that GWB was an adopt/adapt response to Bill Clinton). When they finally do -- when they get past the self-destructive long-dark-night-of-the-hidden-knives crap and get into the real long-dark-night-of-the-soul, they'll have to recognize that Obama out-decent-ed them. (One of the core un-stated premises of the Obama campaign, after all, was that personal-attack politics isn't just un-necessary, it's actually counter-productive.) Until they face that, they're going to think that someone who gives the appearance of fighting "fair" is too weak or tentative.
They want decisiveness, these defeated ones. Defeated ones always seem to want decisiveness.
An Obama-Huckabee race (which of course could never have happened in the 2008 context, but I'm just saying) would have been a very different cotnest. Obama would have had a hard time pulling that one out. Mike Huckabee c. 2009 vs. Barack Obama c. 2012 would be a tough challenge for Huckabee, but if he were to start laying the groundwork now -- and a public-affairs talk show is as good a place as any for a politician-in-hiatus to do that -- he can build a subjectively credible foreign-policy base by late-2010 to 2011 (the time frame in which he'll need to be lining up support).