Boy, that didn’t take long. Over the span of a few short days in late January and early February, three members of the top tier of Republican presidential candidates demonstrated why they’ll never be president. They didn’t do anything to disqualify themselves directly, just revealed the traits that will make them appear unsuitable to most voters by the time the campaign really heats up, say, when the presidential election is a mere 18 months away. As it is, all three of them—Rand Paul, Mike Huckabee, and Chris Christie—can pack it in right now and save months of time and tons of money. They’d be doing themselves a favor, and us too.
Consider first the case of Mike Huckabee. He is a former preacher, TV talk show host, and governor of Arkansas. Huckabee seems to want to cement his image in the public mind not as a successful governor of an unsuccessful state but as a preacher and a talk show host. It is a deadly combination. The part of him that is talk show host will, as talk show hosts do, comment on everything that swims into view, especially if it’s none of his business. And the part of him that is preacher will comment in a way that will annoy anyone who doesn’t share his pious background, which in this age of galloping secularism strikes most people as increasingly esoteric.
Huckabee is on a tour promoting a book called God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, in that order. He appears on shows whose hosts and audiences agree with him on almost everything. This too is deadly. The hundred-thousand-plus sales that result from such saturation publicity lull an author into thinking he has many more followers than the hundred-thousand-plus who had the time, inclination, and money to buy the book. More likely it means that he’s exhausted his market and has goosed everyone who agrees with him and his book into buying it. Which in turn means that everyone who didn’t buy his book doesn’t agree with him. This segment of the population numbers roughly 320 million.
The book is pretty good, by the way, written in smooth and jokey prose. Who besides Dick Durbin can hate a book that matter-of-factly calls Dick Durbin a “windbag”? There’s enough material in its pages, however, to make even some Huckabee sympathizers squirm. In the first few chapters the waste-matter metaphors are laid on a little thick: lots of “sewage” and “filth” are (daintily) discussed. You don’t have to like New York—everyone who likes New York has already moved there, thank God—to be a little unsettled by his denunciations:
it’s crowded, loud, hurried, intense, and it just seems like its streets are filthy. Even when the trash gets picked up, you always want to burn your shoes after you’ve walked the New York streets because of all the “stuff” that is ever present on the sidewalks.
Travis? Travis Bickle, is that you?
Huckabee’s book is now most famous for his denunciations of such sewage-workers as the lip-synching dancer Beyoncé and her repellent husband. Good for Huck! But in his book he uses this as an occasion to comment on how the president and first lady are failing in their role as parents, allowing their teenage girls to listen to the “toxic mental poison” of contemporary music. Bad for Huck: Any parent who is trying to bring up a kid in the crappy culture of 21st-century America faces the same dilemma as the Obamas, and many of them have uneasily resolved it in the same laissez-faire fashion as the first couple. The proper response to such a parent, if any is called for, is sympathy. But no response is called for, since Huckabee wasn’t asked.
Our preacher/TV host/governor tried explaining these and other untoward remarks in ways that he evidently hoped would satisfy the moralizers of the mainstream liberal press, and in so doing he only fell deeper in the “stuff.” Toward homosexuality, for example, he took what he surely thought would be deemed an enlightened position: He compared it to the use of profanity or alcohol—not a mortal sin, in other words, just a harmless vice; thus managing to alienate partisans of homosexuality and their most dedicated enemies, who may think it’s a vice but don’t think it’s harmless.
There will be much more of this unpleasantness till the unavoidable day when Huckabee withdraws from the race or explicitly chooses not to run. As a talented and competent former governor he might be a plausible national candidate. First, though, he would have to put a sock in the talk show host and the preacher, and the odds are long. Only a certain kind of voter wants to be governed by a professional controversialist. And that voter doesn’t have a lot of friends.