WHEN: Today, Friday, October 16
Mike Huckabee, 60, is among the small group of 2016 Republican presidential candidates who have run for the White House before. The former Arkansas governor made a significant impact in the 2008 race, winning the Iowa caucuses before losing the nomination to John McCain. Subsequently he became a Fox News TV host. Huckabee's distinction now, as in the 2008 campaign, is twofold. He's a Baptist minister with special appeal to conservative Christians. And he brings a working-class sensibility to his economic agenda that diverges from Republicans' traditional closeness to corporate America. He attributes some of his inability to capitalize on his 2008 Iowa win to opposition from Wall Street. He sat down with me to discuss his 2016 campaign at The Home Plate Diner in Des Moines, Iowa.
A partial transcript from Speakeasy with John Harwood featuring Mike Huckabee follows. All references must be sourced to CNBC.com:
John Harwood: Seemed to me that you were at your peak political strength when you ran in 2008. You got the nice house in Florida. You had the Fox gig. I figured you had resolved what your post-elective office life was going to be like.
Mike Huckabee: It was never about that I was just eating up with running. Walking away from every bit of your income, hey, that's a pretty serious deal. You know the dumbest thing people have said? "I don't think Huckabee's really serious about running. I think he's just wanting to get a TV show, maybe a book deal. What a stupid thing to say. I had a TV show. I had a book deal. I was making more speeches than I could keep up with.
John Harwood: From the jump, nobody has, I think, taken you seriously as they did in 2008. However seriously they took you then. And you were underrated as a candidate—
Mike Huckabee: Well, they didn't take me very seriously until I won Iowa and then people said, "Maybe this guy's got a shot."
John Harwood: Well, let me switch to populism because you were a populist, a Republican populist, before it was cool.
Mike Huckabee: Whatever that is supposed to mean.
John Harwood: Well, that's what I'm getting at. Now you have Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, even Donald Trump saying, "We need to help the people in the middle and working classes."
Mike Huckabee: Eight years ago, nine years ago, in the CNBC debate in fact, in Dearborn, Michigan I remember it well.
John Harwood: I was there.
Mike Huckabee: We were all asked, "How's the economy doing?" and most everybody was giving the standard Republican boiler plate language. That, "It's just doing great." I said, "Well, I guess if you're working in the corner office, things are going swimmingly well." I was – I mean, just pilloried for that by The Wall Street Journal and by others who thought that I was a total ignoramus when it came to how the economy was functioning. Well, it turned out I was pretty darn ahead of my time because within a year, the economy had fallen apart and the people at the top were feeling what I was watching happen to the people at the bottom already.
John Harwood: Let me ask you about Wall Street and its relationship to the rest of the economy.
Mike Huckabee: Look, I'm not sure that the repeal of Glass-Steagall was a brilliant idea because what you did, you erased the line between traditional banks.
John Harwood: Would you bring it back?
Mike Huckabee: And – very likely. Yeah. And I'm not saying there shouldn't be some regulatory controls. And I hate to use the word, controls – some regulation. But what you don't want is a referee that doesn't simply enforce the rules, but tries to totally control flow of the game.
John Harwood: Now Ben Bernanke said in an interview the other day that he regretted the fact that no individual Wall Street executives were prosecuted for their role in leading up to the financial crisis. Do you agree with him?
Mike Huckabee: Absolutely.
John Harwood: Do you think some should have been prosecuted?
Mike Huckabee: Absolutely, they should have. These were the smartest people in the room. John, these were the people that were supposed to be the geniuses. These were all Ivy Leaguers and they knew darn well what they were doing and shuffling paper around and getting paid ridiculous sums of money.
John Harwood: Why do you think none of those prosecutions ever happened?
Mike Huckabee: Money, politics. That's what I say. Look, the contributors keep flowing to Washington. Washington keeps doing the dance. I've said that Washington is like a strip club. You got people tossing dollars and people doing the dance. It was a casino. And I got in trouble for saying that very thing eight years ago. I'd like to say, I was right.
John Harwood: Governor, thanks so much for doing this.
Mike Huckabee: Thank you, John. Enjoyed it.
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