Is Huckabee Phony-Nice? Or Phony-Nasty?
July 28, 2015

So I'm reading this:

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee called the Iran deal "idiotic," and likened it to events of the Holocaust, saying that President Barack Obama will ultimately "take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."

And I'm thinking back to 2012:

As of this week, the former Arkansas governor has a new job: national radio talk show host.

The Mike Huckabee Show started Monday with an anticipatory flourish.

"Welcome to the community of conversation. You've just made a right turn, and you've arrived at the corner of conservatism and common sense," he said. "In this show, we're going to be confronting the issues -- not the listeners."

... "One of the trademarks that we are putting on this show is that it's going to be more conversation and less confrontation," he says. "If anyone has watched my television show, they know that I don't bring people on the set to see if I can yell at them and push their buttons and raise everybody's blood pressure. I have people on my show that are as polar opposite of me philosophically as someone can be, but I'm always going to treat them with respect."

The show didn't work for him and went off the air a year and a half later. But niceness was always part of Huckabee's brand, as the Daily Beast's David Freedlander noted last year:

Frank Rich, in The New York Times, wrote [in 2007] that Huckabee was the Republican Obama. Rich attributed Huckabee’s rise in the polls to “his message,” which “is simply more uplifting -- and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian -- than that of rivals, whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia.”

It was an idea that ricocheted around liberal blogs and talk radio outlets. Sure, Huckabee’s views on social issues were a bit out of right field, but they weren’t appreciably different from those of the rest of the GOP field. And the rest of his policy ideas, even when right-leaning, were bathed in a soft, summer camp biblical glow. People of faith, he said in one memorable speech, need to show that they “are not just angry folks mad about some things we don’t like, but people who have joy in our hearts. People who want to help those without housing to find it, those without drinking water to drink it, to help people who are hungry at night to know what it is to have food.”

But more recently he's just become nasty -- "Mean Mike," as Ed Kilgore calls him. Here's a passage from Huckabee's most recent book:

For those of us from the land of God, guns, grits, and gravy, being told we need to ride a bicycle and live in a tree stump by an environmental lobbyist in a Gucci suit or an aging hippie who hasn’t been outside the San Francisco city limits since Jerry Garcia died goes over about as well as Pee-wee Herman lecturing George Foreman on how to throw a punch.

And, of course, now he's comparing the Iran deal to the Holocaust, but last year he compared abortion to the Holocaust.

So which was that the real Huckabee? One Arkansan who knew Huckabee back when suggested to the Daily Beast's Freedlander thatboth Huckabee personas are phony, though the nasty one is more genuine:

“He might have been a Baptist preacher, but he had a mean streak a mile wide,” said Jimmy Jeffress, a former Arkansas lawmaker who served in the statehouse during Huckabee’s tenure. Although the two battled bitterly in Little Rock, Jeffress said that since the governor [left] the statehouse, “He has just become a complete opportunist. He says these things to reach out to the hearts of Republican voters. I don’t think that is what he feels, but he wants to get more support and he doesn’t want to just go home to hismultimillion-dollar mansion on the Florida coast...and put his feet in the water.”

He had the talent to sell the nice-guy act to Arkansas voters in two gubernatorial elections; he then sold it to quite a few primary voters in 2008 -- but not enough. This year, the nasty act isn't working for him -- he's far back in the polls, and Iowa evangelical Republicans are abandoning him for Scott Walker (or Donald Trump).

Would Huckabee be doing better this year if his shift in persona didn't seem opportunistic -- even though it may more accurately reflect his actual personality? Hard to say. A further complicating factor is that while GOP voters clearly like self-righteous anger, they're not responding well to some of the angrier, snarlier candidates. Cruz, Jindal, Christie -- they're all struggling.

The exception is Trump. And maybe the reason is that he's the only one who really seems to enjoy being nasty. Jindal never seems to enjoy anything. Cruz often seems smug, but never joyful. Christie used to enjoy his own nastiness, but not anymore.

Huckabee seems joyless, too. In nasty mode, he just seems grim and bitter. He should probably pick one persona, stick with it -- and savor it.

(Crossposted from No More Mister NIce Blog)

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