Mike Huckabee, the pastor turned Arkansas governor turned best-selling author and talk-show host—the only through line here may be his shiny cowboy boots—is sitting in the lounge of the Williams Club, unwinding after an address to the Hudson Union Society, peddling his new book, A Simple Christmas. He insists it’s not political. Strictly speaking, it’s a collection of holiday homilies. But it does establish his impoverished upbringing, which is good politics, and it does establish a sociopolitical sensibility, a kind of nostalgia for the days of shopping at JCPenney and football in vacant fields. The publication also coincides with the paperback release of Do the Right Thing, Huckabee’s campaign treatise from 2008 (now updated, post-election). And his publisher, the conservative Penguin imprint Sentinel, has arranged a 60-city book tour, which looks an awful lot like a campaign schedule. It also coincides with the publication of Going Rogue. How is he different from Sarah Palin?
“I don’t know if I’m comfortable trying to answer that,” he says, “because it would sound like I’m making the comparison, which I don’t want to do.” But surely he’s teeming with opinions about her? He gives me a closed-mouthed, wide-eyed grin. Is this in case he runs for president?
“It has nothing to do with that,” he says. “It’s just that there’s no upside if I say anything.”
If the latest Rasmussen and Gallup polls are to be believed, Huckabee is the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012. You don’t have to squint much to see why. He made a pretty decent show of it in 2008, coming in second after taking eight states. He’s a born performer and plays bass guitar. In the age of conservative fury and hyperbole, he sounds more like George W. Bush in 2000, offering homespun pleasantries—“I’m a conservative,” he likes to say, “but I’m not mad at anybody”—and he has a sense of humor, that rarest of elements on the periodic table of national politics, making it possible for even New Yorkers to hear his anti-abortion rights, anti-gay-marriage positions without wanting to throttle him.
Yet it is impossible to listen to Huckabee and not wonder if any presidential aspirations he may have are doomed. Yes, he’s an Evangelical. And his weekend show on Fox News, Huckabee, has big ratings. But he can also be impolitic, blunt, even.
The conservatives’ obsession with Barack Obama’s country of birth, for instance, gets an eye roll. “Honest to God, if there was something to that, Hillary would have long before found it and used it in the primary,” he says. As for his 2008 primary, he says: “I believe the graphic term among men is ‘a pissing match’ of who could pee the furthest.” He talks about how, as governor, “I took the position of college scholarships for illegals,” he says. “If a child came here when he was 4, and now he’s valedictorian, does he get the same scholarship as another would get? I say he does. And people said I was favoring immigrants over people who were already here.”
In other words, Huckabee sounds more like the John McCain of 2000 than the W of 2000. Why does he even want to run for president? “I don’t know that I will,” he says. Isn’t it nice making money? “Yeah,” he says. “It really is. And you know what’s really neat about it? I don’t have to tell anybody how much it is.”
I point to a story in the Times about election fraud and Hamid Karzai. What would Huckabee do about him if he was president? “The question is what do you do with Afghanistan,” he says. “That government is not likely going to be stable. It is the most primitive place I’ve ever been in my life.”
I stare at him. “It is! It’s like going back to 1000 B.C.! I kept looking for Fred Flintstone and Wilma, thinking they were going to be here any minute, driving up in their little foot-operated car.”
“You are never going to be president,” I blurt out. “You cannot keep saying this stuff and expect to be president.”
“I keep telling people that,” he says.
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