POLITICS DECEMBER 12, 2007
Time's Mark Halperin had a sharp take Monday on why the unflattering things that have come out about Mike Huckabee haven't hurt him so far:
"Voters seem attracted to the man--not his issue positions, his record, or the quality (or lack thereof) of his campaign apparatus. Taking down Huckabee the Candidate means taking down Huckabee the Man, and that requires the kind of nuclear blast no one is yet inclined to launch."
I’ll admit it: Watching Republican debates in the spring and summer, I developed a soft spot for the guy. I thought that, even if his ideas were a little nutty, he was obviously a really good dude. He jawed with reporters, he played the guitar, he even did shtick on "The Colbert Report." But looking at it closely, the Huckabee dirt does reflect--strongly, and badly--on Huckabee the Man. There’s a lot of negative buzz out there, and it hasn’t stuck in part because it’s tough to square the image of the hambone, TV Huckabee with the more morally dubious character that's emerging. To rectify this problem, I tried to organize the Huckabee dirt according to what it says about his character:
HUCKABEE’S SHADY ETHICS
- THE TOBACCO DOLLARS. This saga, laid out in detail by Newsweek, has all the seedy elements of a Thank You For Smoking knock-off: Around the time he was elected lieutenant governor, in 1993, Huckabee tells some buddies he’s broke. A mysterious non-profit, incorporated in Texas because the buddies “didn't want anybody to find out about it,” subsequently supplements Huckabee’s income with cash from donors Huckabee refuses to reveal. One of the biggest donors, as it turns out, was R.J. Reynolds--and those erstwhile Huckabee buddies now allege the tobacco company wanted Huckabee to shill against Hillary’s health-care proposal among fellow evangelicals, a scheme Huckabee was game for. Huckabee’s Clintonian response to Newsweek: "I don't recall those meetings [with an R.J. Reynolds exec]. I'm not saying they never happened. … If they can show me pictures of me there, that might help.”
- THE FILE PURGE. Before stepping down as governor, Huckabee wiped almost 100 computers in his offices using $13,000 in state emergency funds. The purge left incoming Governor Mike Beebe with no emergency funds for the second half of the following year.
- THE ETHICS COMPLAINTS. The Arkansas ethics commission found that Huckabee had committed five violations for actions such as accepting inappropriate gifts during his tenure as governor.
HUCKABEE’S SLAPDASH DECISION-MAKING
- THE DISDAIN FOR FOREIGN POLICY. Over a day after it was blared all over the front page of every paper, Huckabee hadn’t bothered to find out about the new game-changing National Intelligence Estimate. When asked how he could’ve missed such an important news event, he shrugged, “It’s going to happen again.” I hope not, if he becomes president. Then there’s this: “I’m not an expert,” he told Don Imus about his interest in foreign policy, “but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night." Huh? If you can believe it, he found this joke good enough to use it more than once.
- THE AIDS FLAP. In 1992, he advocated quarantining AIDS patients, well after it was commonly known that AIDS could not be spread through casual contact. He refuses to retract the idea today.
- WAYNE DUMOND. After hearing he had been born again in prison, Huckabee announced he intended to commute convicted rapist Wayne Dumond’s sentence (without talking to the victim). He didn’t then do so directly, but a number of members of Arkansas’s Parole Board at the time recall him passionately pressuring them to release Dumond in 1996. Dumond subsequently sexually assaulted and murdered a Missouri woman. As with the R.J. Reynolds meeting, Huckabee denies the Parole Board members’ accounts--but very vaguely.
- THE OTHER PARDONS. Huckabee granted twice as many pardons and commutations during his tenure as his three predecessors--combined. Many beneficiaries had personal connections to him, or recommendations from a pastor.
- THE IMMIGRATION PLAN. As I noted on The Plank last week, Huckabee didn’t bother to hammer out a fresh proposal on immigration, but copy-and-pasted hardliner Mark Krikorian’s two-year-old plan without asking Krikorian for an update.
- THE FAIRTAX PLAN. Huckabee became a FairTax zealot because someone mentioned it to him on the trail and he read a book about it. Less encouraging than his thought process on the immigration plan, if that’s even possible.
- THE JEFFREY DAHMER PRESS. Hard as it is to imagine given how smitten national reporters are over him, Huckabee had a terrible relationship with the Arkansas press. He complained that some reporters who gently criticized him were “constipated” (meaning: full of shit) and compared others to Dahmer. In 2003, he even got himself slapped with a lawsuit for trying to force a critical public broadcaster off the air. Conservatives up in arms over the Fairness Doctrine might find this incident worth a second look.
- HUCKABEE AS HIGH-MAINTENANCE LADY. Stories abound about Huckabee’s complaints over his provisions in office. But my favorite is the one where he became so angry after being refused extra office space when he became Lieutenant Governor that he posted a sign outside his office counting the days he had been denied better digs, like the deficit-reductionists do in the halls of Congress to highlight the national debt. Except it wasn’t the national debt, it was several less rooms.
The stories that have come out about Huckabee paint a portrait of him not just as somebody not ready for prime-time--a fault he can overcome with his I-never-said-I-was-perfect bit on the stump--but as a real narcissist. The idea that one’s past policies (the AIDS position) or actions (the R.J. Reynolds deal) could turn out to have been bad ideas, and require apologies or explanations, doesn’t appear to touch him. And the idea that gathering more information on issues (like the NIE, criminals’ records, immigration details, or tax policy) could improve his leadership doesn’t seem to register, either. The Huckabee credo appears to be this: Feeling moved, Huckabee creates, and God sees that it is good.