Mike Huckabee: Savior or Huckster?
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Mike Huckabee began as the cuddly candidate when he ran for the 2008 Republican nomination for president. He was a teddy bear.
He was the conservative, as he said at nearly every campaign stop, who wasn’t “mad at everybody.”
Huckabee was born in tiny Hope, Arkansas, home of giant watermelons and Bill Clinton. Huckabee, a former governor and Baptist minister, sensed there was political hay to be made by appearing less angry than Republicans such as John McCain and Ron Paul.
This was not hard to do.
Huckabee was an “aw, shucks” kind of guy, one who always had a ready joke. “I can’t buy you; I don’t have the money,” he told voters. “I can’t even rent you.”
Grits would not melt in his mouth.
There was another side to Huckabee, however. He could go from being the baby-faced contender to being Baby Face Nelson.
In 2011, Huckabee said of Barack Obama, “His perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather.”
But Obama didn’t grow up in Kenya. He grew up in Hawaii and, for four years, in Indonesia.
Huckabee was forced to backpedal. He said he “simply misspoke.” He said he really had meant to say Indonesia when he said Kenya.
But where did all this Mau Mau stuff come from? And why try to link it to Obama?
Because, perhaps, the Mau Mau Uprising of the 1950s was one that stunned the Western world because black people rebelled and killed white people. Graham Greene, who was in Kenya as a journalist, wrote: “It was to the English colonists like a revolt of the domestic staff.”
And here was Huckabee saying it had shaped Obama’s perspective. It was, in its own way, a “Willie Horton” moment, the injection of racial fear into politics.
The peculiar thing about it was that Huckabee has his own “Willie Horton” problem, a more direct one. As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee commuted the sentence of Maurice Clemmons, who then got out of prison and murdered four police officers, reportedly the most police officers ever killed in a single incident.
After the murders, Huckabee said of his commutation, “It’s not something I’m happy about at this particular moment.”
Huckabee had gone from the pleasant zone of national press attention to the less pleasant zone of national press scrutiny.
In some ways, Huckabee is a moderate on immigration. At a town meeting in West Des Moines in August 2007, I heard him upbraid an elderly woman for saying immigrants were trying to “take over” Iowa and do her personal harm.
“Most of the immigrants I know are not coming here to commit crimes but to find a better life,” Huckabee told the woman. “If I was an immigrant, I would want to come here.”
But as the campaign went on, Huckabee would emphasize building a tall border fence and requiring all 12 million immigrants who came here illegally to return to their home countries within 120 days so they could get “to the back of the line.”
Huckabee also liked playing the maverick, however. He talked about the “unbridled greed” of Wall Street executives and told me, “That is enough to send a chill up the spine of the Republican establishment.”
It did. The trouble for Huckabee, however, was that the Republican establishment controlled both votes and campaign contributions.
And though many recent stories about Huckabee point out he has strong support from the religious right, few stories point out that the religious right has not gotten the nominee it has wanted since Ronald Reagan.
And Huckabee’s courting of conservative Christians makes some nervous. Huckabee does not believe in what he calls “traditional Darwinian theory” and supports teaching creationism in public schools. He does not believe abortion is justified, even in cases of rape and incest.
He believes that homosexuality “is an aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle.” He is against same-sex marriage. “It’s Adam and Eve,” he says, “not Adam and Steve.”
Huckabee is pro-Israel but won’t answer directly whether Jews can go to heaven or must spend eternity in hell. He told The New Yorker in 2010: “If somebody asked me, ‘How do I get to heaven?’ I would tell them that the only way I personally am aware of is faith in Christ, because I believe the New Testament. That’s the only map I got. Somebody says, ‘Well, I got a different map.’ OK! You know what? If it works, I’m not going to argue with you.”
But on “Meet the Press” in 2007, Huckabee “stood by” a statement he had made in 1998: “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.”
Last week, when he resigned from Fox News in order to explore another run for president, Huckabee said one reason was that God didn’t put him “on earth just to have a good time or to make a good living.”
When Pat Robertson, a former Baptist minister, ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, he said, “I have a direct call and a leading from God” to do so.
One has to be careful about this, however, said Robertson. There is a “percentage of error.” Sometimes advice that “appears to come from God,” Robertson cautioned, “is actually coming from Satan in disguise.”
Which is a good thing to consider whenever a candidate claims that God is his co-pilot.