A broad and well fought Republican presidential primary is a good thing. It is way too early to pick a candidate. The idea of a situation like this is to let the discussion and debate happen. The more we know the better we vote. Mike Huckabee is one of the few, if not the only candidate, whose entrance into the race does not bode well for the race itself. I do not know who I will vote for come the primary, but I can assure you it will not be Mike Huckabee.
Hugh spent a good bit of the show yesterday trying to get people to admit that if it is Hillary v Huckabee they will vote for Huckabee, and so for the record, yes I will vote for Huckabee in the general – if he gets there. But I do not think he has much of a chance to get there, and while it is still primary season, my opposition to his candidacy will remain very strong.
Mike Huckabee represents pretty much everything wrong about Evangelicalism. Do not misunderstand me there is a whole lot of good in Evangelicalism. But Mike Huckabee is the living embodiment of its foibles and he makes the good stuff awfully hard to find. The Wall Street Journal wasted no time piling on after his announcement. This is a reflection of Huckabee’s multi-year and nasty dispute with the Club for Growth. There are valid arguments on both sides of the debate, but it is how the debate has proceeded, mostly because of how Huckabee works, that really rankles me.
I am currently reading a book called “Apostles of Reason” by Molly Worthen. The primary thesis of the work, one she has developed well in the few chapters I have read so far, is that Evangelicals have severely harmed their effectiveness as a cultural/political force because they don’t play well with others – primarily each other.
That pretty well sums up Mike Huckabee. When criticized he counterattacks, viciously. Oh, like a lot of Evangelical leaders he is quite passive-aggressive in those counter attacks and media often buys his “Oh it wasn’t like that” routine. But this is part of the problem too. Anybody running for POTUS has got to be incredibly hard-headed and when appropriate combative – but the good ones find a way to be so graciously, not disingenuously.
And this passive-aggressive viciousness is an instinct with Huckabee. The battle with the Club for Growth is one of those where Huckabee ought to listen and learn. He does not have to adopt their agenda or ideas, but he ought to engage rather than confront. Instead, he is just nasty. He claims they misrepresented him in the 2008 campaign. But that is an old tactic of his.
Which brings me to my second objection to Huckabee. He is the only opponent Mitt Romney ever faced that overtly played the Mormon card. His subsequent claims of a lack of intent and misrepresentation simply make him “slick.” (Yes just like the other candidate from Hope, AK.) He did and said what he did and said. Religious conservatives cannot afford that kind of religious divisiveness in POTUS elections. It is a fine discussion in the halls of a seminary, but when running for POTUS and in the pages of the NY Times, give it a rest. How much better off would Christians of every stripe, and Mormons if you insist of separating them from the pack, be if we could have worked together in the last two cycles? This is Worthen’s thesis played out on the grandest scale of them all – thanks to Mike Huckabee.
All of this reflects poor judgement on Huckabee’s part. That lack of judgement has never been more evident than in his record of clemency while governor of Arkansas. And particularly the commutation of Maurice Clemons. And again, rather than respond to this mistake with humility, Huckabee admits his error only to a point, saying it turned out bad, but given the same circumstances he’d do it again. The man simply does not learn from his mistakes. That’s the bottom line. No one expects a president that makes perfect calls, but we have to have one that learns from the bad calls.
Mike Huckabee will be a poison pill in the GOP primary – smiling, glad-handing and “never intending” to be the nasty, back-biting street fighter that he actually is. Elections are more than debates, they are fights. So being a fighter is a good thing. Just don’t pretend you’re something else – the country does not need such deception.