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Those of us hoping that Sarah Palin might become the Republican standard-bearer are probably in for a disappointment — and it was probably far too much to hope for anyway, wasn't it? I mean, the GOP really isn't that suicidal, right? Although it's much too early to make any serious predictions, I think that if we are going to regard anyone as the most likely leader of the GOP's base of conservative evangelicals, it has to be Mike Huckabee. The reasons why he is a much stronger and better candidate for them are also the reasons why he is a much more dangerous candidate for everyone else.
Sarah Palin would have been a gift to progressives because it would have been so easy to convince everyone (except for the extremists and the base) that she shouldn't be elected. Mike Huckabee, in contrast, is the sort of person who has appeal far outside the base. Give the devil his due: Mike Huckabee can be easygoing, can sound reasonable, speaks intelligently, doesn't talk down to people, doesn't sound like a grumpy, angry old man, is by all accounts genuinely personable and friendly, takes stands on economic issues that make him sound almost progressive, and so on.
Many of these positive qualities are good for any politician, but they will also make it very easy for moderate conservatives and independents to convince themselves that they aren't really voting for an extremist. Even if they are awake enough to recognize how extreme many of his views are, they will assume that that's OK if his views are "balanced" by having some views that aren't extremist. But make no mistake, Mike Huckabee is as much of an theocratic, authoritarian, extremist Christian as anyone in the Christian Right today.
The next time you see Mike Huckabee on any sort of mainstream news program, pay close attention to how he behaves — his friendly, positive demeanor — but pay even more attention to how the host or interviewer behaves. You probably won't see Huckabee challenged on anything he says or questioned about some of his statements from the past. Journalists like Mike Huckabee because, as I pointed out above, he seems to be a genuinely likable guy who is able to get along very well with others, even people who disagree with him strongly. We should expect the press to try to present him to the American public in a generally positive manner. He'll be portrayed as a "reasonable" conservative evangelical Christian, a "moderate" from the far Christian Right.
I would like to think, though, that greater understanding of his real views might lead to far less support for him as a national candidate. If we can't expect the press to do their job by finding and explaining that information, others will have to step in and do it for them. There are a number of relatively simple steps which the progressive community can begin doing now which will make matters much simpler in the future if in fact Mike Huckabee becomes a national candidate again. It's probably better and smarter to prepare for that eventuality than to be caught flat-footed.
First, we need to gather as much information about his past statements and actions as possible. Some may be easy to find because it's recorded online. Other important items will be much harder to find because Huckabee seems to have gone to the trouble of scrubbing relevant material from when he was a minister. Perhaps some or all of that is lost forever, but the sooner people start looking, the better the chances of finding something. Second, everything he does now should be cataloged. Mike Huckabee is currently doing a book tour so he'll be giving tons of interviews and speeches. There may even be opportunities for people to ask him some direct questions about his beliefs when he appears for book readings or signings — take advantage of that!
Finally, progressives need to be writing about Mike Huckabee's views now, well before they might become part of any national election campaigns. Don't wait until he's a viable candidate again before directly critiquing his views on homosexuality, abortion, church/state separation, and related matters; take the time now to repeatedly associate his name with homophobia, anti-choice ideology, anti-secularism, theocracy, and authoritarianism. When people search for his name online, hundreds of well-written and well-sourced critiques of his beliefs should become immediately available. Reporters also do background research this way, remember, so we might even influence the work of mainstream journalism in this fashion.