Arkansas

Perkins Slams Efforts at ‘Unity’

A group of Democrats and Republicans, including former Senators such as Jack Danforth, Gary Hart, and Bob Graham, as well as Christine Todd Whitman, and Sen. Chuck Hagel, gathered at the University of Oklahoma today for a forum urging presidential candidates to work to “establish a government of national unity”:  

Today, we come together with hope and determination, with a determination to stop politics as usual which seeks to divide us for political gain.  We come together to resurrect that kind of bipartisan statesmanship that united us as Americans to win the Cold War.  We come together to appeal to all presidential candidates to tell us how they plan to bring us together.  Hear our plea!  Bring us together!

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins is having none of it and sees it as an effort to drive so-called “values voters” out of the political process: 

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), says in their zeal to find common ground, the moderates want to jettison social issues from both party platforms and focuses. The FRC leader says the group of moderates "obviously did not get the message from Iowa," where former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee surged ahead because of "his unequivocal stand on core issues."

"I think we've seen in the wake of Iowa and in what's happening across the country that those issues are very near and dear to people," Perkins observes. "Those are issues that motivate people; they vote based on those issues. [And] those issues are important to Americans, not just evangelicals, but value voters make up a wide section of Americans who are concerned about the moral direction of our country."

Polls show that most Americans – including most Republicans and most Christians – don’t share Perkins’ abortion-and-gays political priorities.  But he’s got a point about the power of those issues to motivate a good chunk of the Republican base.  Mike Huckabee just won Iowa where “over 80 percent of [his] supporters self-identified as born-again Christian or evangelical.” 

Or as Perkins explained following Huckabee’s win last week, the GOP’s right-wing base is motivated by wedge issues and will rally around “one of their own” if given the opportunity:  

[E]vangelicals, dispirited by Republican indifference if not outright hostility to their concerns, cast their ballots for candidates who line up with them on their top priority issues (for example, all of the top five finishers contend that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be corrected).

Iowa evangelicals' voting pattern says, "If that is the way we are viewed by the other members of the conservative coalition, we are going with one of our own whom we can trust on our issues." The road ahead will be filled with challenges, but one thing is clear: the values voter turnout has reshaped this presidential campaign in a very good way.

In other words, Perkins seems to be saying, “values voters” aren’t even interested in “unity” with the rest of the conservative movement.  That’s quite a change from what he was telling reporters at the “Values Voter Summit” in October, when he was indirectly dissing Huckabee by repeating Romney’s “three legged stool” formulation that any Republican would need the support of social conservatives, economic conservatives, and foreign policy conservatives to win the White House.

Huckabee’s Faith-Based Campaign

Coinciding with his rise in the polls, Mick Huckabee seems to have developed a two-pronged message that highlights his faith at every opportunity while complaining about the unfair coverage his faith is receiving. 

The first part of this message can be seen on his own campaign website:

My faith is my life - it defines me. My faith doesn't influence my decisions, it drives them. For example, when it comes to the environment, I believe in being a good steward of the earth. I don't separate my faith from my personal and professional lives.

This theme has been carried over in his ads where he touts himself as a "Christian Leader" and states that "what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ"?  

The flip-side of this faith-based messaging is Huckabee’s tendency to complain, as he started doing a few weeks ago, that he is “being questioned about the details of my faith like no one else” and insisting that the appeal of his campaign is about much more than simply his faith.

Huckabee appears to want to have it both ways: making explicit appeals for electoral support based on his faith and then complaining that he is being unfairly targeted for it.  But as it stands now, it doesn’t seem as if he is willing to forgo the former in order to stop the latter:  

Associated Press   

Huckabee Counts on Pastors for Iowa Help

Republican Mike Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher, is depending on more than a leap of faith to win the Iowa caucuses.

Leading in polls, Huckabee is determined to make up for his skimpy organization in the state by enlisting national evangelical Christian supporters to rev up Iowa pastors and coax voters to the Jan. 3 caucuses.

Word of mouth in churches and among Christian groups can be a powerful force in Iowa politics. Christian believers make up the core of Huckabee's support in the state, said Rick Scarborough, a well-known Texas preacher who has endorsed the former Arkansas governor, though he adds that "it's not his only constituency."

Politico

Huck uses Christmas debate to mobilize base

Mike Huckabee brought Christmas cheer to Iowa on Wednesday, as the newly appointed front-runner gleefully defended his controversial Christmas ad released this week.

“If I had used the name in Jesus Christ in vain and blurted it out as profanity no one would be talking about it,” said the former Arkansas governor. “Because I invoked his name on his own birthday ... somehow everyone sees in it something that isn’t even there. Have we so lost our national soul?”

The hotel, packed with roughly 200 Huckabee supporters, erupted in applause, hollers and Amens.

Touting Christmas is smart strategy for the former preacher, whose evangelical base drinks up the holiday rhetoric as they would a big glass of eggnog. In the evangelical world, the ad strikes back at the so-called “war on Christmas.”

Huckabee’s two-pronged strategy is pretty well summed up in this quote from ABC News:

Does it bother Huckabee that unwillingness to vote for a Mormon is one of the factors helping him?

"You know, it's not something that I agree with," Huckabee says. "But I agree with the final outcome. I just have to believe that there's still a reason that a lot of people are connecting with me and I don't think it's religion."

He may not agree with voters supporting him only because of their own anti-Mormon view, but he’ll take it and just believe it is something else.  

And while he may wish to believe that there is more to his campaign than his appeal to faith, he can’t deny, as he told CBN’s David Brody, that voters driven by “spiritual motivation … certainly represent a broad part of my base.” 

Courting the Right, Deep In The Heart of Texas

It looks as if Mike Huckabee is heading to Texas to raise a bit of money with the help of a few of his right-wing supporters:
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has been gaining ground in the Republican presidential primaries, is scheduled to meet campaign donors in Houston today at the Tanglewood home of physician Steve Hotze, a longtime Christian conservative activist. Like other major presidential candidates, Huckabee is making a last dash for Texas cash before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary next month. His trip includes a fundraising event in Dallas after his Houston event. Co-hosts for the $500-per-person Houston event include state Rep.Debbie Riddle of Tomball and Texan Rick Scarborough, founder of Vision America, which works to mobilize pastors and church congregations for political action.
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you are undoubtedly familiar with Rick Scarborough, the self-described “Christocrat” who heads Vision America and has a penchant for suggesting that evangelical leaders are dying off because the nation has turned its back on God, suggesting that Christians will have "the blood of martyrs on [their] hands"if they don't oppose hate crimes legislation, blaming "the church" for just standing by and allowing the election of "unrighteous leaders" in 2006, and saying that opponents of the War in Iraq are committing treason, among other things. Then there is Debbie Riddle, who is perhaps best known for this comment:
"Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell. And it's cleverly disguised as having a tender heart. It's not a tender heart. It's ripping the heart out of this country."
And what about Steve Hotze? Well, the Texas Freedom Network discribes him thusly:
Hotze is a prominent leader of anti-abortion, anti-gay and politically active religious political extremism in Houston. Hotze gained prominence while promoting a ‘Straight Slate’ of political candidates in response to Houston Mayor Kathy Whitmire’s support from the gay community. Using Christian Coalition tactics of organizing through churches and organizing on the precinct level, Hotze led the religious right’s campaign to take over the Harris County Republican Party from moderate Republicans.
The Houston Press provides a bit more background:
Thin and long-faced, 46-year-old Steven Forrest Hotze has carved out a niche in local politics over the past decade as an unyielding and occasionally strident opponent of abortion and public acceptance of homosexuality. He may not be a household name outside Republican circles, but within the party he is admired by a devout coterie of followers, catered to by secular conservatives and feared by moderates, who find themselves in a position of needing his approval to win nominations in GOP primaries. Those summoned to kiss his ring encounter a tough, uncompromising zealot who is used to getting his own way. ... It's a considerable amount of clout for someone whose stated beliefs place him to the right of the religious right. "If we are to survive as a free nation, and if justice and liberty are to be restored in our land, then biblical Christianity, with its absolutes, must once again be embraced by our citizens," he wrote several years back in a Chronicle op-ed piece. "Only then can we expect to see Christianity's influence once again to be reflected in the laws of our civil government."
According to a separate Houston Press article that suggests that Hotze's medical credentials and views are a bit suspect, he also signed something called the Coalition on Revival's Manifesto for the Christian Church in 1986 that dictated:

• A wife may work outside the home only with her husband's consent • "Biblical spanking" that results in "temporary or superficial bruises or welts" should not be considered a crime • No doctor shall provide medical service on the Sabbath • All disease and disability is caused by the sin of Adam and Eve • Medical problems are frequently caused by personal sin • "Increased longevity generally results from obedience to specific Biblical commands" • Treatment of the "physical body" is not a doctor's highest priority • Doctors have a priestly calling • People receiving medical treatment are not immune from divine intervention or demonic forces • Physicians should preach to their patients because salvation is the key to their health

Give that the vast majority of Huckabee's Religious Right backers are borderline theocrats, it remains to be seen just when, if ever, Huckabee is going to called to account for the types of people with which he is surrounding himself.

Huck’s God Talk

As we noted last week, Mike Huckabee has been complaining that he has been subject to an “unusual level of scrutiny” because of his religious beliefs.  But since his current campaign strategy seem to be largely based around playing up his standing as a “Christian Leader” it only seems fair – even his ideological allies admit as much:

Huckabee sometimes has bristled at questions about whether he would use the presidency to impose his religious views. But even some of Huckabee's longtime friends say he invited such questions by running an ad that promotes him as a Christian leader.

"If a candidate makes his faith a part of his campaign, it is fair game," said Richard Land, who has known Huckabee for 28 years and is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.  

So it should come as no surprise to him that people are taking a look at his record and finding this like this:  

"I didn't get into politics because I thought government had a better answer. I got into politics because I knew government didn't have the real answers, that the real answers lie in accepting Jesus Christ into our lives."

With that sort of approach to government, it only makes sense that Huckabee would use his use his government position to promote his religion, as he did when he was lieutenant governor – though he had to wait until then Governor Jim Guy Tucker was out of the state to do it:

Clerics, ACLU hit 'Christian' week in Ark.

The Commercial Appeal

3 February 1994

Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee's proclamation of a Christian Heritage Week cheapens and trivializes the true meaning of being a follower of Christ, several theologians said Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the proclamation part of a national attempt by the religious right to prove America was founded as a Christian nation, but the group said it will take no action.

Huckabee, acting governor during Gov. Jim Guy Tucker's absence, signed documents in the Capitol rotunda Wednesday declaring the week of Feb. 27 to March 2 Christian Heritage Week in Arkansas. He said he was "somewhat surprised if not startled" that anyone would oppose the action.

"When I took the oath of office in this state, my hand was placed on a Bible, my oath was made, 'so help me God,' the very document we sign here says 'in the year of our Lord,' " Huckabee said. "I don't think any of us need to fear there is some inappropriate action taken when we simply acknowledge that which our forefathers did when they created this country and declared our independence that . . . all men and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights."

Tucker distances self from Christian week

The Commercial Appeal

4 February 1994

Gov. Jim Guy Tucker said he rejected a request to proclaim a Christian Heritage Week but had no authority to stop Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee from doing it.

"We were asked to make such a proclamation several months ago, and I declined to do it because I didn't think government should be in the business of promoting any one religion over the other," Tucker said Thursday.

"This is obviously something Lt. Gov. Huckabee feels very strongly about. But under our state constitution, as we know from painful experience a year ago, the lieutenant governor is free to do what he wants to do."

When the governor of Arkansas is out of the state, the lieutenant governor is acting governor and has all the governor's power.

Christian Heritage Week wasn’t the only time Huckabee invoked God to push his political agenda – in fact he had a tendency to do so on a variety of public policy issues – as he did when he dismissed those who care about the environment:

Keyes Gets Some Love

Overcoming past slights, Alan Keyes will be participating in the the upcoming The Des Moines Register Presidential Debate: "Confirmed candidates for the Republican debate on Wednesday, December 12 are: Ambassador Alan Keyes; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Rep. Duncan Hunter; Arizona Sen. John McCain; Texas Rep. Ron Paul; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo; and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson."

Brand Newt

Newt Gingrich has descended upon the Iowa caucuses again, promoting a “Platform of the American People” –and, incredibly, raising the specter of running for vice president:

The timing of his appearances a month before the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses is leading political observers to suspect he's angling to be on the short list of running-mates for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee or whoever is the Republican nominee. …

The former House speaker who flirted with a Republican presidential nomination run earlier this year said in a C-SPAN interview on Sunday that he might accept being the presidential nominee's running mate if offered.

"Depending on the circumstances, I'd be honored to be considered and under some circumstances, I'd probably feel compelled to say 'yes,' " said Mr. Gingrich, who says he will work until this summer's presidential nominating conventions "to get both parties to adopt a unity platform on a handful of things they could enact in the first 90 days of 2009."

It was just two months ago that Gingrich’s incipient presidential run was mercifully laid to rest, but some on the Right are apparently holding out hope that the former House speaker will save them, perhaps fondly recalling the “Contract with America” that he put together shortly before the Republicans took control of the House in 1995 and that served as a right-wing rallying cry after the elections.

Of course, a lot has happened since 1995. Gingrich quickly established his lack of popularity—within two years, his favorability rating was at 15 percent. His skills as a political strategist were put to the test as he pursued the impeachment of Bill Clinton in the run up to the 1998 elections, which resulted in a devastating loss for Republicans and his stepping down from leadership. Many Americans no doubt remember the hypocrisy of Gingrich prosecuting Clinton for sexual indiscretion while he himself was having an affair.

Gingrich was a key figure in creating the era of highly-polarized politics, but today he is branding himself, ironically, as a seeker of common ground, launching a campaign earlier this year of platitudes (“Real change requires real change,” etc.). Now, the Right is looking to him as its “ideas man,” gushing over his “intellectual heft.” “Newt Gingrich is the intellectual cornerstone of our modern conservative movement," said the American Conservative Union’s William Lauderback at this year’s CPAC.

While such a reputation on the Right may be hard to believe, it may ultimately doom his vice-presidential aspirations; ACU’s David Keene warns that Gingrich’s “articulateness and willingness to speak out on virtually every issue” would put candidates at risk of being “upstag[ed]” by him. That would indeed be embarrassing.

In any event, we’re sure Gingrich is enjoying all the attention, and it brings to mind the words of longtime Gingrich ally Matt Towery after Gingrich announced he wouldn’t seek the presidency. "The question is, around Washington: Was it a scam?”

The Huckabee of Old

Mike Huckabee’s rapid ascent in the polls has come as a surprise to many. It began with his performance and win at the Values Voter Debate, where he assured a bevy of second and third-tier right-wing activists that he was different from the other candidates - for while they simply come “to” them seeking support, he comes “from” them.   

Huckabee rode the wave from the Debate into the Value Voter Summit where he wooed the audience by telling them everything they longed to hear from a presidential candidate and walked away with the majority of votes of those in attendance in the straw poll.

Since then, Huckabee has been racking up endorsements from right-wing figures like Janet Folger, Rick Scarborough, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye and been transformed into a viable front-runner.  

In addition, Huckabee has undoubtedly benefited from the fact that many in the press seem smitten with his affability, humor, and “ah shucks” demeanor – but, as we noted in a report we recently released, they are ignoring his “a long record of rhetoric and actions that reveal an ideologue’s agenda and a zealot’s intolerance for differing opinions.”

For example, in this recent profile of Huckabee, the New York Times undertook no real investigation of any of Huckabee’s past work or inflammatory remarks, stating simply:

Mr. Huckabee served as Mr. [James] Robison’s announcer, advance man and public relations representative, drumming up attendance and coverage for his prayer meetings and appearing on broadcasts. (The organization was based near Dallas, which is how Mr. Huckabee came to work on the 1980 Reagan rally). Mr. Robison could be harsh — he yelled in the pulpit and referred to gay people as perverts — but Mr. Huckabee was a genial ambassador

That is all well and good, until you realize just who Huckabee was working for:

Likewise, the Times goes on to perfunctorily recount Huckabee’s failed 1992 Senate campaign:

Mr. Huckabee ran largely on social issues like abortion, portraying his opponent, Senator Dale Bumpers, a Democrat who was virtually an Arkansas institution, as a pornographer because he supported the National Endowment for the Arts. But attacking the popular veteran backfired; Mr. Huckabee was badly beaten.

Of course, there is more to it than that – such as the positions he put forward during his campaign, which he discussed with the Associated Press:

Having gays and lesbians in the military would be a disgrace for the nation, according to Huckabee.

"I agree with the leadership of our military, who believe it is not in the best interest of the armed forces to have homosexuals serving on active duty," he said. "I believe to try to legitimize that which is inherently illegitimate would be a disgraceful act of government. I feel homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle, and we now know it can pose a dangerous public health risk."

Q: Do you approve of a man and a woman living together out of marriage?

Huckabee: Whether or not I approve of a man and woman living together is not as much of an issue as whether or not it is right and whether or not God approves of it. The "living together" relationship is demeaning to the highest expression of human love and commitment. I reject it as an alternate lifestyle, because it robs people of the highest possible relationship one can experience: marriage. We should always strive to encourage every human being to experience his or her full potential and possibilities.  

Huckabee also shared his views regarding the proper treatment of people who are infected with HIV:

"It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population," he said. "This deadly disease, for which there is no cure, is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents.

"If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague."

This was 1992 – four years after the federal government distributed a pamphlet penned by then Surgeon General C. Everett Koop entitled “Understanding AIDS” which explained that the disease could not be contracted through everyday contact.  And is not as if Huckabee just didn’t see the pamphlet, since it “was sent to all 107 million households in the United States in 1988, the largest public health mailing ever done.”

Huckabee likes to portray himself as a different kind of right-wing leader, one who is conservative but “is not angry about it.” But judging by his past remarks, he appears far more like his right-wing allies than he would like the nation to believe. 

The Speech: Romney still no JFK

Mitt Romney’s speech on religious liberty and the role his faith would play in his presidency – the long-discussed “JFK speech” -- included some Kennedy-esque rhetoric about the fundamental importance of religious liberty, but it was a far cry from JFK’s ringing endorsement of church-state separation. The timing of Romney’s speech, as former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee overtook Romney in Iowa polling, seemed to make it clear that Romney’s target audience was the conservative evangelicals who play a major role in Republican primaries. Many of those voters have told pollsters that they’re reluctant to vote for a Mormon, and they have little patience for arguments that church-state separation is good for religious liberty.

Georgia Right to Life Endorses Huckabee

Breaking with the national organization, which backed Fred Thompson, Georgia Right to Life goes with Huckabee: "Gov. Huckabee has a proven track record of solid pro-life legislation during his terms as governor of Arkansas. He is noted for having passed a state 'Human Life Amendment' which says that 'the policy of Arkansas is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception to birth.' Arkansas Amendment 68 will take effect the moment that Roe vs. Wade is reversed. He is especially supportive of our efforts here in Georgia, to promote the passage of H.R. 536, the Paramount Right to Life Amendment."

The Right Rallies 'Round Huckabee

The right-wing endorsements just keep pouring in for Mike Huckabee. In addition to B-list celebrities like Chuck Norris and Ric Flair, Huckabee has also been racking up endorsements from B-list Religious Right leaders such as Rick Scarborough, Don Wildmon, and Tim and Beverly LaHaye. And now Huckabee has secured the support of Jerry Falwell, Jr.:

Former Arkansas Governor and Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee announced the personal endorsement of Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. Falwell is the son of the late Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and Falwell Ministries. "I knew Jerry's dad for more than 30 years and have admired the long tradition of Liberty University and the legacy for creating 'Champions for Christ'," Huckabee said. "Dr. Falwell's vision of helping students to start with nothing to believe they can change the world is exactly what our campaign is all about."

Huckabee also unveiled his Faith and Family Values Coalition which, as one would expect, is chock full of Religious Right figures of varying fame and influence:

- Dr. Jerry Jenkins, best-selling author, including the Left Behind series; Colorado
- Star Parker, Founder and president of CURE;* Washington D.C. - Michael Farris, Chair of Home School Legal Defense Association* and Chancellor of Patrick Henry College;* Virginia
- William J. Murray, Chair of Religious Freedom Coalition,* Chair of Government is Not God PAC,* and author; Washington D.C.
- Don Wildmon, Founder and Chairman of American Family Association;* Mississippi
- Dr. Mark Bailey, President of Dallas Theological Seminary;* Texas
- Rick Scarborough, Founder and President of Vision America;* Texas
- Jerry Cox, President of Arkansas Family Council;* Arkansas
- Janet Folger, President of Faith2Action;* Florida
- Jim Pfaff, President and CEO of the Colorado Family Action;* Colorado
- Mathew Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel*/ Dean of Liberty University Law School;* Virginia
- Kelly Shackelford, Chief Counsel, Liberty Legal Institute and President of Free Market Foundation;* Texas
- Phil Burress, President of Citizens for Community Values;* Ohio

As for Janet Folger, not only is she a member of the coalition, she is also serving as co-chair. This comes as no surprise, as Folger has been Huckabee's most vocal backer ever since he won the straw poll at the Values Voter Debate, which she organized. It should also be noted that Folger personally invited the Grand Avenue Church of God choir to perform their rendition of "Why Should God Bless America?" at the debate:

In recent weeks, Folger has been going all out for Huckabee in her WorldNetDaily columns, calling Hillary Clinton "Queen of Slaughter" and claiming that, if elected, Clinton will put Christians in prison. For that, Huckabee appears to have decided that she deserves to serve as co-chair of his Faith and Family Values Coalition.

Huckabee Wins Over More "Christian Leaders"

Mike Huckabee just keeps racking up endorsements from fringe right-wing activists and leaders.  In addition to the support of “celebrities” like Chuck Norris and Ric Flair, Huckabee has also won over second-tier Religious Right leaders such as Janet Folger, Rick Scarborough, and Don Wildmon - and now you can add Tim and Beverly LaHaye to that list:

Mike Huckabee, the Republican presidential candidate and former Southern Baptist minister, is getting help from Tim LaHaye, the Christian conservative organizer and co-author of the apocalyptic “Left Behind” novels.

“America and our Judeo-Christian heritage are under attack by a force that is more destructive than any America has faced” since Hitler, Dr. LaHaye and his wife, Beverly, wrote in letters sent to lists of conservative Christians in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. “Defeating the radical jihadists will require renewed resolve and spiritual rearmament by the evangelical pastors in America.”

The letters were distributed in part through an e-mail list maintained by Mrs. LaHaye’s organization, Concerned Women for America, to encourage pastors to attend two-day conferences held in each state (free, including meals and a hotel room). Mr. Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, is the only candidate speaking.

Ms. LaHaye just happens to believe that “Christian values should dominate our government. The test of those values is the Bible. Politicians who do not use the Bible to guide their public and private lives do not belong in office.” Which probably explains why they are backing Huckabee who, with his most recent ad, portrays himself as a “Christian Leader” who says his “Faith doesn’t just influence me; it really defines me”:

Huckabee Racks Up Thespian-Strongman Endorsements

Of course, fringe-right activist Janet Folger isn’t the only Mike Huckabee booster. Just days after releasing a TV ad—his first—featuring Chuck Norris, the Republican presidential candidate announced an endorsement from professional wrestler Ric Flair, otherwise known as “The Nature Boy”:

Former Arkansas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee announced today the endorsement of professional wrestling legend "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, the former 16-time World Heavyweight Champion known worldwide for his "stylin' and profilin'" personality and his signature "Whooooooo" with which he ends interviews. …

"It's a tremendous honor to offer my support to such an outstanding leader as Mike Huckabee" Flair said.  "His authentic conservative qualifications and level of executive leadership experience are unmatched by his opponents.  And like I always say, to be the man, you've got to beat the man and Mike Huckabee is the man.  Whoooooooo!"

Perhaps Huckabee is seeking to bolster his foreign policy credentials, given Flair’s experience fighting “The Iron Sheik.” Or maybe Huckabee is trying to counter the efforts by the Club for Growth to paint him as an economic populist:

In other entertainment news, Huckabee also garnered endorsements from motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and “Left Behind” co-author (and former “Gil Thorpe” writer) Jerry Jenkins.

Does Dobson Heart Huckabee?

If this turns out to be true, it’ll likely do significant damage to Mitt Romney’s effort to secure the GOP nomination by pandering himself into the Right’s good graces – via The American Spectator’s “Washington Prowler”:

Dr. James Dobson, who has largely been made irrelevant to the 2008 Republican presidential race, has apparently found his man, and according to an adviser, is ready to change the landscape of the Republican nomination race.

"He is the leader of the evangelical and social conservative movement in America, and he's going to reassert that position and leave no doubt that he's in charge," says the adviser based in Colorado.

Sources close to Dobson say that within the next ten days he is coordinating an endorsement plan with the presidential campaign of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. According to a Huckabee insider in Iowa, the event would be staged in that state at a rally, followed by a bus tour across the state, and an appearance by Huckabee on Dobson's radio show, which is heard nationally.

Dobson's endorsement, according to the Huckabee source, could mean millions in fundraising to the campaign, allowing it to compete at the same level with the top tier candidates Huckabee has been inching toward in the polls after a series of strong debate and campaign appearances.

Huckabee has already secured a handful of right-wing endorsements; enough to mobilize those who oppose him to try and sink his nomination. So this will be a real test of Dobson’s influence to see if he can get other leaders in the movement to back Huckabee and, more importantly, to see if they possess enough influence to propel Huckabee into top tier and help him overtake the current frontrunners.

The Long Knives Come Out For Huckabee

Fresh off his resounding victory at the Values Voter Debate in Florida and his first place (depending on how you count) finish in the straw poll at the Values Voter Summit, it seemed as if Mike Huckabee’s campaign was gaining traction – for a while, at least. After all, following the Summit, a group of right-wing leaders met to discuss their options going into the 2008 election and many appeared ready to come out in favor of Huckabee:
Phil Burress, president of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values and member of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, declined to talk about the meeting but said he has personally decided to support Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister. Another well-respected Christian conservative leader, Kelly Shackleford, a Texas lawyer, is also expected to come out on behalf of Mr. Huckabee in the coming days.
Since the summit, Huckabee has hit double digits in the polls for the first time, saw his fundraising skyrocket, and even picked up the endorsement of Joe Carter, who is not only Director of Web Communications for Family Research Council but also an influential blogger in his own right. His progress appears to have prompted others on the Right, such as the Club for Growth’s Pat Toomey, to take his campaign seriously and mobilize to stop it:

Perkins’ Prediction Comes True and Creates a New Dilemma

Heading into the recent Values Voter Summit, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins was careful to make clear that it was unlikely that any one candidate would emerge from the event as the Right’s candidate of choice, thus rescuing them from their current dilemma and confusion.   But he also predicted that the event would at least help narrow down the field a bit:  

“These are the influencers, these are the talkers,” Perkins said of the attendees that will take over the Washington Hilton hotel. “This could be when things start to shake out and a candidate begins to emerge with a certain level of support. I don’t think anybody’s going to walk away with a lock, but maybe one or two candidates, maybe three, will begin to take off with strong support from the base.”

The one candidate who got the biggest boost from the Summit was Mike Huckabee, who came in second place in the straw poll and was the overwhelming favorite among those in attendance – something which, oddly enough, only seems to have confused things further:

The influential social conservatives who comprise the Arlington Group met over the weekend to discuss the possibility of endorsing a presidential candidate and could not reach a consensus, according to a source familiar with the process.

Though leaders of the individual organizations may make their own endorsements, those selections "cannot be considered a blanket endorsement by the 'Religious Right,'" according to the source.

While many leaders want to endorse fan favorite Mike Huckabee, others are more hesitant. The source informed me that "the dilemma is over whether to choose the preferred candidate of their constituents or go with the pragmatic choice and risk offending our base."

According to the source, James Dobson of Focus on the Family likes Mitt Romney, Gary Bauer of American Values prefers Fred Thompson, and Don Wildmon of the American Family Association likes Huckabee. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is still on the fence, but nearing a decision.

In fact, very little has changed:  Supporting McCain or Giuliani was never much of a possibility and the right-wing leadership has always been torn between Romney, Thompson, and, to a lesser extent, Huckabee.  The only new development is that some are becoming more willing to openly back Huckabee:

Huckabee’s Tough Talk

One of Mike Huckabee’s points of pride is that he alone among the remaining Republican presidential candidates, does not feel the need to pander to the Religious Right because, as he puts it, "I come today not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you” – a point he also emphasized when he appeared at the Values Voter Debate back in September.  

But despite the rock-solid right-wing record and credentials, he just hasn’t been able to capitalize on the discontent plaguing the movement’s most influential organizations and leaders who seem to be just looking for reasons not to support him.  For instance, last week Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer held a conference call for reporters in which they faulted Huckabee’s apparent lack seriousness regarding the threat of “radical Islam”:

Neither Perkins nor Bauer muster a great deal of enthusiasm for the candidacy of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, even though he has strong evangelical credentials. Mr. Huckabee attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as a Baptist pastor, and later was president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

"While Governor Huckabee is very good on all the social issues, he has not seemed to find solid footing on the issue of the threat internationally from radical Islam," Perkins said.

"In a major foreign-policy address a couple of weeks ago that did not get much attention … in the middle of the speech [Huckabee] went after the Bush administration on not aggressively negotiating enough with Iran and suggested that the administration needs to offer economic incentives for Iran to change its policy," Bauer said. "That just struck me as a very naive approach."

That message obviously wasn’t lost on Huckabee, who now seems to be trying to cram tough-guy talk into his speeches at every opportunity, telling the audience at the Values Voter Summit:

I fear that many Americans simply are not fully aware of the depth of threat we face from Islamofascism. And I’m afraid that if we do not wake up and understand that this threat is one that we cannot negotiate, accommodate, or placate – it is one which we must eradicate, because we they don’t care whether it takes 1,000 days or 1,000 years, their goal is not simply to make sure that your grandchildren don’t live as well or have as nice a home. They don’t want your grandchildren to ever live at all ... Ladies and gentlemen, our nation, our world, our freedom has never faced the level of threat that we currently face. We can fight those countries who have a war over borders and boundaries, who fight with bullets and with bombs and who fight under the banner of flags, but we cannot completely ever fully understand the depth of fanaticism that drives Islamofascism, and that’s why we must make sure that every American understands that the threat of our freedom is real. It’s going to be here. And we cannot have the naïve idea that if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone. That will get us killed.

He trotted out a similar line during the recent Republican debate in Florida, warning that if Hillary Clinton becomes president” our military loses its morale, and I'm not sure we'll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the greatest threat this country's ever faced in Islamofascism.” 

Huckabee was the overwhelming favorite among those who attended the Values Voter Summit, and it is not hard to see why:

He called for a constitutional amendment declaring marriage to be between a man and a woman and decried the "holocaust of liberalized abortion."

"We do not have the right to move the standards of God to meet cultural norms. We need to move the cultural norms to meet God's standards," he said, bringing the crowd to its feet.

With his campaign and prospects slowly gaining steam, perhaps all Huckabee needs to put him over the top is regular doses of manly talk about just how tough he’ll be in facing down “Islamofascism.” 

Contested Vote Count: Romney v Huckabee

Immediately after Tony Perkins announced the result of the FRC Action straw poll, in which Mitt Romney edged Mike Huckabee by 30 votes out of 5,775 cast, Huckabee boosters cried foul – and reporters peppered Perkins with questions about the legitimacy of the poll. Turns out that Huckabee won a majority of the votes cast in person at the Values Voter Summit, 51 percent, and Romney only took 10 percent. Some unknown number of votes were cast online by people who also attended. But other votes were cast anytime online between August and Saturday. That’s how Ron Paul showed up in third place with 865 votes even though he was picked by only 25 in-person voters. Huckabee’s clear victory in the in-person vote wasn’t much of a surprise if you experienced the rapturous reception Huckabee received on Saturday morning. Huckabee’s speech was non-stop Religious Right prime red meat and he had people cheering and hollering throughout.

Huckabee to Right: Don't Sell Out

Mike Huckabee, the second-tier candidate many at the Values Voter Summit hope will become their champion, brought down the house when he said that he appeared “not as one who comes to you, but as one who comes from you.” In an endorsement of Dobson’s threat to bolt the Republican Party, the former pastor and governor of Arkansas came back time and again to the idea that some issues are “non-negotiable”: namely, opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion.

Surprise! Gays Not Popular at Religious Right’s GOP Debate

Given the radical right’s longstanding obsession with denying legal recognition or protections to LGBT Americans, it’s not surprising that several questions at the "Values Voter Debate" were about protecting America from the gays. Also not surprisingly, these candidates lined up to oppose equality.

The first question of the night, from the American Family Association’s Buddy Smith, was about “protecting” marriage.  Every candidate except libertarian Ron Paul pledged to push for a federal marriage amendment.  Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee touted his record of pushing a marriage amendment in his state and promised to lead an effort to have a constitutional amendment that would affirm marriage as “one man, one woman, for life.”  Rep. Tom Tancredo pledged to do everything possible to pass a federal constitutional amendment, warning that Americans are just “one kooky judge” away from having homosexual marriage forced on them.  Sen. Brownback bragged of his efforts in the Senate to pass the FMA and complained that President Bush had not done more to pass it.  Alan Keyes, who had just tossed his hat in the ring, took a shot at the absent Mitt Romney, calling him “single-handedly responsible” for gays getting married in Massachusetts (not, shall we say, a view widely shared among marriage equality activists).

Paul Weyrich, a founder of the modern Religious Right political movement, closed the first section of the program by asking what candidates would do to counteract “the homosexual agenda.”  Most candidates went back to the need for a marriage amendment to prevent, in Keyes’ typically tempered words, the “destruction of traditional marriage.” Brownback and Rep. Duncan Hunter talked about keeping gays from serving openly in the military.  Libertarian Ron Paul, while saying he is opposed to legislating morality, called for eradicating hate crime laws. Brownback also attacked hate crimes laws as criminalizing thought and moving into an agenda of not allowing people to speak their beliefs.  Businessman John Cox talked about common sense but spouted nonsense, talking about opening floodgates to bestiality and polygamy and warning darkly of “transvestite” teachers in public schools as a reason to support “school choice” and homeschooling.

During the “yes or no” segment of the program, Stephen Bennett, self-proclaimed “former homosexual,” argued that homosexual behavior is immoral and dangerous, and asked whether, as president, candidates would support legislation ensuring that schools would forfeit federal funding if they expose children to “homosexual propaganda” that puts them at risk. All the candidates clicked their green lights to answer “yes.”   A later question asking whether they would pledge to veto ENDA also won unanimous support.  

During a segment in which questions were directed at a single candidate, anti-gay zealot Peter LaBarbera asked the absent Mitt Romney why voters should trust him when he spent so much of  his career promoting “anti-life” and “pro-homosexual” policies and not challenging Marriott’s providing pornography in its hotels as a member of its board.  But perhaps the most memorable anti-gay question came from Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver, who cited Abraham Lincoln in criticizing Fred Thompson’s “federalist” approach to marriage, essentially making marriage equality the moral equivalent of slavery:

While you were senator you opposed the Federal Marriage Amendment, but recently you stated that you would support a marriage amendment that would prevent judges from imposing same-sex marriage, so long as it would not prohibit state legislatures from adopting same-sex marriage. This reasoning is like saying that you favor a constitutional amendment that prohibits judges from imposing slavery, so long as the state legislatures were free to do so. Does not your position fundamentally misunderstand the universal importance of marriage in the same way my latter example about slavery indicates a misunderstanding of human dignity?

Religious Right Debate Organizer Declares Huckabee The Anointed One

The top-polling GOP presidential candidates may have snubbed last night’s “Values Voter Debate” hosted by the American Family Association and a collection of B-list to D-list Religious Right leaders, but debate organizer Janet Folger (author of “The Criminalization of Christianity”) was ecstatic because her prayers had been answered.  She had been praying for God to reveal “the David among Jesse’s sons.”  And David turns out to be Mike – former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

Folger declared Huckabee the “clear winner” of the straw poll taken by attendees at the event, apparently hand-picked by the organizers and right-wing leaders and activists who lined up to ask questions in the 3-hour marathon.  Religious Right leaders have been frustrated by the fact that the somewhat pro-choice and pro-gay rights Giuliani is leading in GOP polls, and that no consensus candidate has emerged that excites the movement’s leaders. Folger is out to change that, and to make her event the moment at which God’s anointing of Huckabee as the candidate to rally around was revealed.  It’s not yet clear whether the movement’s major political players like James Dobson and Tony Perkins will join the bandwagon.  Folger’s co-panelist Phyllis Schlafly, for one, wasn’t letting herself be bullied into saying who she would vote for, even after Folger’s revelation.

“We won huge,” Huckabee himself boasted. “I’m pleased, and proud, and honored to have this historic endorsement from America’s leading social conservatives who believe, as I do, in the core values which define American culture and life. This overwhelming vote affirms that conservatives are coalescing around one candidate and that candidate is me.”

It’s no surprise that the folksy Huckabee was popular among the far-right faithful at the event – he answered every question to their liking, while touting his populist, blue-collar credentials.  On marriage, he would lead an effort to pass a constitutional amendment affirming marriage as “one man, one woman, for life.”  On abortion, he needled the missing candidates and said “on this issue our culture rises or falls.”  He backed the Iraq war, calling it a “theological war” against people “whose religious fanaticism will not be satisfied until every last one of us is dead, until our culture, our society, is completely obliterated from the face of the earth.”

During an interminable “yes or no” segment, Huckabee pledged himself to a long  far-right wish-list: support for Roy Moore’s court-stripping bill to keep federal courts from meddling with public officials who use their office to promote religion, vetoes of hate crimes, ENDA, and the fairness doctrine; stripping schools of federal funding for exposing children to “homosexual propaganda,” repealing IRS restrictions on churches endorsing candidates, bringing back Bush’s social security privatization plan, imposing a ban on federal funding for any U.S. group that performs or advocates for abortion, boosting federal abstinence spending to match contraceptive funding, and more.

Huckabee closed by telling Janet Folger, Roy Moore, Rick Scarborough, Phyllis Schlafly, and the rest, that “many [other candidates] come to you. I come from you.” 

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