With Sen. Sam Brownback now out of the presidential race, only two candidates in the Republican presidential field — California’s longtime U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — can lay claim both to a high degree of purity on the hot-button issues for social conservatives and to a personal life that seems in keeping with those traditional values.
But only one, Huckabee, seems to be gaining major traction… even though the record in Arkansas suggests that he might be the wrong one to rally around.
Ask lots of folks in Arkansas, including Republicans, and a fair number will probably tell you that Huck is for Huck is for Huck. National media folks like David Brooks, dealing in surface appearances only, rave about what a nice guy Huckabee is, and a moral exemplar to boot. If they only did a little homework, they would discover a guy with a thin skin, a nasty vindictive streak, and a long history of imbroglios about questionable ethics.
Once, Gov. Huckabee even had the gall to file suit against the state ethics commission. He lost.
Fourteen times, the ethics commission — a respected body, not a partisan witch-hunt group — investigated claims against Huckabee. Five of those times, it officially reprimanded him. And, as only MSNBC among the big national media has reported at any real length, there were lots of other mini-scandals and embarrassments along the way.
He used public money for family restaurant meals, boat expenses, and other personal uses. He tried to claim as his own some $70,000 of furniture donated to the governor’s mansion. He repeatedly, and obstinately, against the pleadings even from conservative columnists and editorials, refused to divulge the names of donors to a “charitable” organization he set up while lieutenant governor — an outfit whose main charitable purpose seemed to be to pay Huckabee to make speeches. Then, as a kicker, he misreported the income itself from the suspicious “charity.”
Huckabee has been criticized, reasonably so, for misusing the state airplane for personal reasons. And he and his wife, Janet, actually set up a “wedding gift registry” (they had already been married for years) to which people could donate as the Huckabees left the governorship, in order to furnish their new $525,000 home.
According to the Arkansas News Bureau (Feb. 1, 2003), “Huckabee’s personal lawyer, Kevin Crass of Little Rock, has said Huckabee believes there should be no limit on gifts short of a bribe.” After all, said Janet Huckabee, public officials like her husband should be automatically trusted: “Until you absolutely positively know that the man has outright lied to you, it should be enough that the man’s word is that everything was done appropriately, legally, to the best of his knowledge to the letter of the law.”
Of course, her reasoning refutes itself: If one is precluded from even questioning “the man’s word,” how can one possibly find out in the first place whether the official “has outright lied to you”?
It must be said that a fair-minded journalist ought to tread lightly in scrutinizing a candidate’s spouse; but in Janet Huckabee’s case, she is a politician in her own right, having run unsuccessfully for Arkansas Secretary of State. Voters overwhelmingly rejected her, perhaps because they remembered her propensity for other outrageous statements — such as the time when she defended secrecy about the donors to her husband’s “charity” by saying that a donor’s name “wouldn’t be enough. [Then] you’d want to know who he was married to, and then his wife would be German descent, and you’d have Mike, you’d have him responsible for 600,000 killings of Jews.”
Of course, nobody accused Huckabee of genocide. But his skin is so thin that when various underlings in his administration, even for bureaus as small as the state film office, crossed ethical lines (some of them, admittedly, rather minor), the governor consistently and angrily attacked the media for reporting the transgressions rather than demanding that the transgressors make things right.
Finally, Gov. Huckabee had a propensity to be almost as prodigal with pardons as was his famous predecessor by the name of Clinton. Indeed, Hillary Clinton’s campaign team is probably licking their chops at the prospect of Huck as the nominee, because one of his pardons, in particular, was so outlandish as to make Willie Horton’s case in Massachusetts seem almost child’s play by comparison. After Huckabee helped secure the release of already-well-known rapist Wayne Dumond, the released convict sexually assaulted and murdered a woman in Missouri.
All of which leads one to ask two questions: First, how can voters whose primary concerns are moral look beyond so many of a candidate’s problems with ethics? And, second, if Republicans in general have concluded, as most of them have, that repeated scandals among Washington GOPers played a huge role in Republican defeats in 2006, how could they possibly nominate somebody who seems to have such big ethical blind spots?
Give this to Huckabee: The man gives a good speech. But so does Duncan Hunter, with the biggest difference being that Hunter’s speeches appeal more to the intellect than the heartstrings — and that Hunter can boast 25 years of leadership for conservative causes, including on taxing and spending issues where Huckabee is notoriously un-conservative.
For that matter, if the question is public ethics, all the other major Republican candidates have rather solid records. With so little scandalous material to look into, why hasn’t the usually scandal-ravenous national media delved into the record of the one GOP candidate whose ethics have been repeatedly questioned in his home state?
Has even the cynical big media been fooled by a Huckster?