In a press gaggle at last weekend’s National Religious Liberties Conference in Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee dismissed concerns about the extremism of its organizer, Kevin Swanson, telling a reporter that he didn’t “have any knowledge” that Swanson backs the death penalty for homosexuality.
Indiana broadcaster Joyce Oglesby ran audio of the interaction on her radio program on Friday.
An unnamed reporter asked Huckabee, apparently directly after his speech to the conference, about “reports that there are a few pastors speaking her today that say that if you’re homosexual, you should be prosecuted, you should actually be killed.”
“Obviously, I don’t agree with that,” Huckabee responded. “I don’t think anyone’s ever accused me of saying that. And I don’t know, did anyone say that from this stage today?”
The reporter responded that while nobody had said such things from the stage yet that day, the organizer and other speakers had previously made such remarks.
“I can’t go with ‘there are some reports that,’” Huckabee responded. “Give me a specific, give me something to react to, that won’t work for me, because I don’t have any knowledge of that. All I know is what I said, I can’t be responsible for what anybody else said on that stage, and apparently nobody said that on that stage.”
If Huckabee had stuck around just a few minutes after his speech, he would have heard Swanson saying exactly that, bellowing to the audience that the biblically ordained punishment for homosexuality is death. If he had stuck around until the next day of the conference, he would have heard Swanson return to the theme, saying that he doesn’t want the government to impose the death penalty for homosexuality quite yet because he wants to give the culture time to change and gays time to repent before imposing his version of biblical law.
And if Huckabee or anybody on his staff had bothered to do any basic research before agreeing to attend the conference, these statements would not have come as a surprise. One of Huckabee’s fellow GOP candidates — likely Ben Carson — reportedly dropped out of the conference after we reported on Swanson’s extremist views. Likewise, People For the American Way called on Huckabee and his fellow candidates Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal to drop out of the summit a full week before it started, citing Swanson’s long history of extremism, including his defense of the death penalty for gay people. As the Cato Institute’s David Boaz writes today, showing up at Swanson’s conference showed “appalling judgment” on the part of Huckabee, Cruz and Jindal.
It seems that after this weekend’s conference, there are plenty of specific reports available for Huckabee to react to. He should be asked to explain himself.