Huckabee Picks His Own Poison

As you have probably seen, a New York Times profile on Mike Huckabee includes comments about the Mormon faith that are likely to stir up passions over religious differences between Evangelical Christians and Mormons – two faithful parts of the GOP coalition – that are best left untouched.
Huckabee’s camp responded to the initial leak from the NYT by pleading for context, as well they should:

In fact, the full context of the exchange makes it clear that Governor Huckabee was illustrating his unwillingness to answer questions about Mormonism and to avoid addressing theological questions during this campaign.
“Governor Huckabee has said consistently that he believes this campaign should center on a discussion of the important issues confronting our nation,” said Senior Advisor, Dr. Charmaine Yoest, “and not focus on questions of religious belief. He wants to assure persons of all faith traditions of his firm commitment to religious tolerance and freedom of worship. Governor Huckabee believes that one of the great strengths of our nation lies in its diversity of thought, opinion and faith.”

Now, the full article is online, so we can get the context that was missing from the teaser. Unfortunately, we can see from the context that Huck went and volunteered his thoughts on this point, even after admitting that he’s not well-versed in LDS theology. Perhaps, as a man trained and experienced as a guider of souls, the former Baptist preacher couldn’t resist the temptation to evangelize, just a little. But as a presidential candidate, he really should have known better than to go there. But he went there anyway:

Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later. I asked Huckabee, who describes himself as the only Republican candidate with a degree in theology, if he considered Mormonism a cult or a religion. “I think it’s a religion,” he said. “I really don’t know much about it.”
I was about to jot down this piece of boilerplate when Huckabee surprised me with a question of his own: “Don’t Mormons,” he asked in an innocent voice, “believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?”

The problem is obvious: while Romney is clearly having some troubles with voters who are uncomfortable with the doctrines of his church, the last thing in the world Huckabee should be doing, morally or as a matter of political strategy, is inflaming sectarian divides within the GOP. He shouldn’t have gone there…but he just couldn’t stop himself. And he will have nobody else to blame for Romney using this slap to attack Huckabee for doing exactly what Romney pleaded with his countrymen not to do to him.
PS – The Times profile is long, interesting and by no means entirely unsympathetic, and it makes good reading. Key graf:

Huckabee has almost no money or organization. He has no national finance chairman, no speechwriters and a policy staff of three. His “national field director” is his 25-year-old daughter, Sarah. Huckabee does have a pollster, Dick Dresner, but so far there hasn’t been enough cash to take any polls. “I think we can go until the beginning of the year,” Dresner told me. “If we start by then to raise some money, we can begin to acquire the trappings of a campaign. Which, at the moment, we don’t really have.”

3 thoughts on “Huckabee Picks His Own Poison”

  1. I would think an obvious problem that Huckabee faces is that, although it is far more mainstream than Mormonism within the GOP, evangelical, biblical-literalist Baptism is probably a far greater obstacle in this day and age to courting swing voters in a general election. Bush certainly sent the message that he was a man of faith, but he (I think wisely) never went into explicit detail about exactly what he believed. Romney is more wisely placing the emphasis on where his faith leads him than on what it actually is.

  2. I like neither Romney nor Huckabee and I don’t care for either the Mormon religion or the Southern Baptist religion, but I’m surprised that you take the NYT’s account of the context at face value. They pretty obviously don’t want either candidate to succeed. Stirring up a GOP fight over religion helps only the Democrats and the Times know that. Why don’t you?

  3. I’m generally not quick to believe the NYT, but (1) Huck hasn’t offered any alternative concrete explanation of what happened and (2) Zev Chafets is a pretty right-wing writer and fairly sympathetic to Christianity (I believe he’s an Orthodox Jew).

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