Columns » Max Brantley

Huck’s week that was

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I'm reasonably confident that I never scoffed at Mike Huckabee's presidential candidacy.

He's glib. He cracks jokes. He has a finger on the pulse of modern culture. He has a genuine streak of populism. Candidates also rise and fall on the quality of the opposition. Huckabee's been blessed in this regard. The strongest candidates in the Republican field — Rudy Giuliani and Sen. John McCain — are unacceptably “liberal,” for a lack of a better word, to the evangelical Christians who hold disproportionate sway over the Republican nominee.

So here we are, nearing the Iowa caucuses, and Huckabee is the runaway favorite in Religious Right-dominated Iowa and at or near the top in national polling, though the race is highly fractured.

With his front-runner status came press inspection last week that was months overdue. The Wayne Dumond case finally got a thorough national airing, even if the reporting didn't advance much beyond what Murray Waas wrote for the Arkansas Times years ago.

The new details did further buttress the essence of the issue. Dumond was a known sexual offender and prone to other forms of violence. Huckabee decided to advocate his release without carefully reviewing the case file, talking to the victim or otherwise making a thorough study of Dumond's fitness for freedom. Instead, Huckabee relied on anti-Clinton and religious conservative voices. Helped by Huckabee's advocacy, Dumond was freed to kill again. It was a terrible misjudgment on Huckabee's part. He refuses any shred of responsibility.

More damaging to Huckabee with his previous Beltway press admirers was his foreign policy cluelessness. Many hours after release of the national intelligence estimate that said Iran did not have a nuclear weapons program, Huckabee said he'd been too busy campaigning to be informed of the news. The news could only alter the course of war and peace.

Then came science. Already suspect among the rational press for his upraised hand as a non-believer in evolution, Huckabee did it again. He couldn't very well take back his 1992 written answers on a questionnaire about AIDS and gay people when news accounts offered a refresher course on them. But he could have said that it was wrong then to say AIDS sufferers should be isolated — put in quarantine, in another word. This utterance came years after the scientific world knew AIDS wasn't transmitted by casual contact.

But Huckabee considers himself as infallible as the pope. He wouldn't take back a single one of his 1992 words, including those that said homosexuality was an aberrant lifestyle. You'd hardly expect succor for gay people from the Baptist preacher, of course. Loathing of gay people remains at the bedrock of a significant chunk of the Republican Party (including some practicing gay Republicans who serve in public office).

Mike Huckabee has learned a few lessons in Arkansas, however. He continued to talk last week to reporters who broke unflattering stories about him. That wasn't always the case in Arkansas. You'd think a Baptist preacher would always follow the ABC model of salesmanship — Always Be Converting enemies.

Huckabee's early devotion to the genial care and feeding of the national press did pay dividends in his gaffe-ridden week. Many of the major news organizations treated the stories as little more than campaign blips or the work of opponents trailing in the polls.

Can personality trump all? It has happened before — 2000 and 2004, to name two.

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