Columns » John Brummett

Into the GOP void — it's Huckabee



There always was a Good Mike and a Bad Mike — Huckabee, that is.

It turns out that having a good side gives the Huckster a leg up on anyone else presumed to be prominent in today's national Republican Party.

It's like what happened the other day. I was imagining that I was the Republican presidential nominee in 2012. I don't know why; I just was; I'm odd. It's a worthy exercise for a pundit. And I was trying to pick a running mate. I couldn't come up with anybody.

Sarah Palin is extreme and ill-prepared. Mitt Romney is phony. Tim Pawlenty is bland. Lamar Alexander is unctuous. Bobby Jindal blew that chance to deliver a Republican response to a State of the Union address. Haley Barbour is a British Petroleum apologist and lobbyist insider. Mitch Daniels doesn't want to fight the pro-life battle, so he loses the base. John Thune? How many electoral votes does South Dakota bring, anyway? Fred Thompson is still sleeping.

It is Huckabee who leads among Republicans pitted against Barack Obama for 2012. That is to say he polls better against the president than any other Republican, but still loses.

Owing to this status, or conspicuousness, Huckabee landed a long and major profile last week in no less than The New Yorker magazine.

It was mostly flattering and favorable, devoting far more words to the good side — the independent thought and interest-generating unpredictability, the communication and quipster skills — than to the bad, meaning the huffiness, ethical shortcomings, bad judgment on commutations and paroles, and the occasional meanness or poor taste or hyperbole of those quips.

We saw the independence and unpredictability in Arkansas when Huckabee stood for college scholarships for children of illegal immigrants and boldly proposed to consolidate nearly every rural school district in sight. He called extreme right-wingers "Shiite Republicans" and drinkers of "a different Jesus juice," even as he allied with them more than not.

The nation, or the part watching, saw that independence and unpredictability in the Republican presidential race of 2008 when Huckabee, alone in a truly woeful field, and well before the economic meltdown, incurred the wrath of traditional business conservatives with his populist refrain extolling the working man and Main Street over Wall Street.

The New Yorker article casts him as a thoughtful religious evangelical, a man who says real Christians are devoted to the Jewish faith, and to the state of Israel, because there'd be no Christianity without Jews.

It also lets Huckabee show his humor, as if any examination of him could avoid that.

He says — not spontaneously, but in an e-mail to the writer that he could have thought about and deleted unsent — that he would rethink his opposition to same sex marriage if his only female choices were Nancy Pelosi and Helen Thomas.

Perhaps you're laughing. Perhaps I'm grinning. But, really: That's gratuitous and tacky and mean-spirited and unworthy of presidential contention, if wholly worthy of Fox's weekend answer to David Letterman.

Anyway, I'm not sure Huckabee is any matinee idol, especially with that regained poundage, which, as many of us know, can happen.

Huckabee also seemed to say that one component of his opposition to same sex marriage — or to somebody's opposition to same sex marriage — is what he called the "ick factor." That has landed him some criticism. But it is redundant to say that Huckabee granted an interview and incurred criticism.

The article leans in the direction of Huckabee's not running in 2012. It suggests that life and the money are too good as a television celebrity.

I agree, of course, since I said all along that a show on cable TV was what he actually was running for in 2008. He's preacher third, politician second and unreformed teen-age radio DJ first.

Who, then, might be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012? Oh, dear. The Republican prospects provide Obama's best chance. Maybe the arrogant and displaced general would want to run.

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