WASHINGTON -- Whether or not Mike Huckabee is at all serious when he says he's thinking about another presidential run in 2016, what he says still matters to the conservative evangelical wing of the Republican party.
And many in that wing also belong to the tea party movement, whose appetite to take on Republicans in primary elections has not abated -- even when that has meant putting ideological purity ahead of electability.
On Thursday at the Republican National Committee winter meeting, Huckabee did not name any names, but he sent a clear signal to organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund, Heritage Action, FreedomWorks and others who are supporting efforts to defeat elected Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Just stop it, Huckabee said.
"Whatever differences we have, compared to the differences that we have to the other party, they're small," Huckabee said at a lunch. "And that's why I've asked Republicans, let's stop using the term 'RINO'" -- Republican In Name Only.
Huckabee, the 58-year-old former Arkansas governor, has been beloved by grassroots conservatives for years, going back to his insurgent run for president in 2008, when he won the Iowa caucus and gave eventual nominee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) a run for his money.
But Huckabee does have a contentious relationship with some outside conservative groups. The Club For Growth spent $750,000 running ads against Huckabee in 2008, according to Federal Election Commission reports, accusing him of raising taxes as Arkansas governor and framing him as fiscally irresponsible.
"Let's stop calling each other somehow less Republican than someone else. Be for the person you're for," Huckabee said.
He said that he will be traveling to Auschwitz next week for the anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp, and noted that the horror of the Holocaust began with the devaluation of people.
"It all started when people were devalued, when people were deemed 'less than someone else,'" Huckabee said. "We look back on that time in history and we think, 'How can educated people, university trained, how can a nation like Germany with all of its resources, with its vast level of its population with higher education, get to a place where they can do something so heinous?' You realize that the only way you can end up there is when you start with the idea that people just aren't as valuable as you are."
The clear implication by Huckabee was that those within the GOP who make a habit of demeaning others as not conservative enough are flirting with behavior that can have grave ramifications down the road. It was a serious charge.
Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, said that because of his Christian faith, "the one thing that I have to constantly remind myself is that none of us are better than another, and no one is less than any of us."
"And if I accept that for the great human family, and I'm willing to value every human life as having worth and intrinsic value, then surely I'll be able to value the life of those who voluntarily join me in a party that I joined when I was a teenager," he said.
Huckabee told the assembled Republicans that their party should engage Democrats on questions of income inequality, poverty and other issues that some conservatives think the party should shy away from.
"I ask us, let's fight the real battle," Huckabee said. "The real battle in this country is joblessness, it's poverty. It's despair, the lack of hope."
Huckabee told reporters before his speech Thursday that he is giving another presidential run a serious look, because the encouragement to do so "has been much stronger than I would have anticipated."
Paul Blumenthal contributed to this story.
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