See Update at foot: Could it be Jeb?
Bona fide prediction, or devious three-dimensional-chess-move-cum- double-bank-shot-jujitsu gambit designed to sow chaos in Republican ranks? Hard to say, but one thing is undeniable: MSNBC correspondent David Shuster has predicted that Mike Huckabee will be the next President of the United States.
The surprising prognosis came at the end of an interesting pundits roundtable [presumably recorded over the weekend] that took the place of Morning Joe's regular live programming this Christmas Eve morning. Wrapping things up, host Joe Scarborough went around the horn, soliciting predictions from his guests.
View video here.
DAVID SHUSTER: I'm gonna say that John Edwards is gonna win out in Iowa, but Hillary Clinton is going to pick up some steam afterwards and get the nomination. I think Mike Huckabee wins Iowa pretty cleanly and goes on to get the Republican nomination. Here's my big prediction, though: if it is Hillary Clinton [which Shuster predicted] against Mike Huckabee, Mike Huckabee will the the next President of the United States.
While Shuster might just have been looking to make mischief, there's something in his background that helps explain his regard for Huckabee's political skills. From 1994 - 1996, Shuster was a political reporter for ABC-affiliate KATV in Little Rock, and thus had a prime perch from which to view Huckabee in action. In the course of his reporting during this electoral season Shuster has often drawn on that experience to extol Huck's political talent. This morning, for example, Shuster related an anecdote from 14 years ago, when Huckabee was Lt. Governor and Governor Jim Guy Tucker got convicted in a Whitewater-related trial but was refusing to resign from office.
SHUSTER: I witnessed Mike Huckabee go into the newsroom of the station where I was working. He looked into a camera and spoke for 10 minutes, no teleprompter, and gave one of the most dazzling political speeches I've ever seen in which he said "Jim Guy Tucker, you have until noon tomorrow to resign, or we're going to start impeachment proceedings." I mean, this guy had those skills 14 years ago and he's been able to grow ever since.
So struck is Shuster by Huck's skills that he approvingly cited someone who had said "if you consider Ronald Reagan to be the Great Communicator, then Mike Huckabee is the Greatest Communicator."
While none of the other panelists seconded Shuster's pick of Huck as the next prez, interestingly all who did make a specific prediction saw him getting the GOP nomination.
Pat Buchanan saw Huck as even money to get the Republican nod, with Mitt at 3-2 and McCain at six or seven-to-one. His dark horse: "if you've got two extra bucks, Joe, put 'em on Ron Paul."
Mika Brzezinksi exclaimed "I agree; I second that" to Shuster's prediction of Huck as winner of the nomination, if not the general. Mika fleshed out her thinking a bit later.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I just think at this point Mike Huckabee knows what he's doing. The religion thing that he's taken care of here; he's strangling Mitt Romney, he's a break from President Bush and he's also the anti-Giuliani.
Mika declined to predict the Dem nomination winner, presumably wanting to stay above the fray because her father and one brother are advising Obama.
Scarborough himself picked Obama and Huck to win their respective party's nominations, with the former Arkansas governor ultimately becoming the VP candidate on the GOP ticket.
The most intriguing possibility came from NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd: "on the Republican side, I think there's a 5% chance that the Republican nominee is not in the race. I think it's that messed up. Obviously that's a crazy thing to say, but that's how uncertain this field is. I don't think the establishment part of the party is ready to rally around Huckabee. I just don't."
Todd didn't offer any inkling as to who that 1-in-20 candidate might be. But whereas not long ago the conventional wisdom was that Iraq would doom the GOP, wouldn't it be the ultimate irony if the Republican champion turned out to be . . . General David Petraeus?
UPDATE | 12-24 1:30 p.m. In subsequent correspondence with this NewsBuster, Todd suggested that Jeb Bush might just be that 1-in-20 shot for the Republicans while describing Petraeus as a "fascinating thought."