The former Arkansas governor, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and is considering another White House run, had to walk back two widely reported comments he made in radio interviews last week during a national tour to promote his latest book.
First he referred to President Barack Obama‘s boyhood in Kenya. It was a mistake; a spokesman said Huckabee should have said Indonesia.
Then Huckabee took on Hollywood and out-of-wedlock pregnancy. “One of the things that is troubling,” he said, “is that people see a Natalie Portman or some other Hollywood starlet who boasts of, `Hey look, we’re having children. We’re not married, but we’re having these children, and they’re doing just fine.'”
Verbal miscues are nothing new for the Southern Baptist preacher who now hosts a radio show and a weekly Fox News Channel program. He’s the first to admit that his mouth sometimes gets him in trouble — and probably will again.
“This was a verbal gaffe. It’s the first I’ve ever made,” Huckabee quipped to Fox host Bill O’Reilly, when asked about the Kenya comments. “I actually wish that were true. I’ve made a lot of them. And by the way, Bill, I’m going to make some more before I die.”
Taken alone, Huckabee’s off-the-cuff remarks last week aren’t likely to derail a presidential bid.
In 2008, he was done in by a lack of money and a paltry organization. His advocacy of some tax increases in Arkansas and his record on clemency — after commuting the sentence of a man who later killed four Seattle-area police officers — may threaten a second presidential run.
Still, a rash of gaffes could further complicate an already problematic potential White House bid, especially if Huckabee wants to broaden his appeal beyond his core group of conservative supporters.
“I think in general he does know what he’s saying and he does know who his audience is,” said Jay Barth, a professor of political science at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., who has observed Huckabee’s 10 1/2 years as governor and as a White House candidate. “I think that most primary voters probably agree with him. No matter whether he’s a candidate for president or a Fox commentator, that’s his constituency.”
Ed Rollins, who chaired Huckabee’s 2008 campaign, doubted either of his recent comments was calculated. But Rollins added: “His base, and the people who made him the front-runner, are not going to be antagonized by either one of these.”
“It was a learning week,” Rollins added. “It certainly didn’t hurt him among his base, but I think he can’t have a bunch of weeks like that.”
For all the criticism Huckabee gets when his mouth causes him problems, there may be short-term political upsides: He could further endear himself to his conservative followers, some of whom believe false Internet rumors that Obama was raised in his father’s Kenyan homeland and who champion marriage and traditional family structures. There could be financial benefits, too: His new book, “A Simple Government,” is expected to appear on The New York Times‘ best-seller list this weekend.
Huckabee at times contradicts himself.
He has said that questioning Obama’s citizenship distracts from the serious policy disagreements he has with the Democratic president. But he also has been quick to draw a distinction between his own upbringing and Obama’s. “I don’t remember any madrassas growing up in Hope, Ark.,” he said in a radio interview this week, referring to radical Islamic schools.
Huckabee made his comment about Portman, winner of this year’s best actress Oscar for her role in “Black Swan,” in response to a question from conservative radio host Michael Medved about the Academy Awards ceremony and Portman’s pregnancy. Huckabee launched into a critique of celebrities who he says don’t give society a realistic portrayal of single mothers. Days later, Huckabee said his comments were never meant as an attack on Portman but as a commentary on society as a whole, a riff that conservative Christians could eat up.
“A lot of things come out of my mouth that I go, ‘Uh-oh,’ this is going to get me in trouble,” Huckabee told Medved in a follow-up interview Tuesday. “This, however, no, I never imagined.”
Could Huckabee’s Portman comment and writings on single parents — the first chapter of his book is titled “The Most Important Form of Government is a Father, a Mother and Children” — be viewed as a subtle jab at potential rival Sarah Palin, whose daughter had a child while single?
Or is that question too conspiratorial?
Remember, this is the same person who while competing for the support of conservative Iowa Republicans in 2008 released a campaign ad wishing voters a Merry Christmas and reminding them that the holiday was about Christ’s birth — with a cross-like image created by a white bookcase in the background. Many viewed it as a subliminal message, but Huckabee said it was a coincidence.
This is also the candidate who said he had decided against airing a negative television ad on rival Mitt Romney — and then promptly showed a roomful of reporters the ad.
Stories of such gimmicks abound in his home state: He moved into a triple-wide trailer while the governor’s mansion was being renovated in 2001, and he used actor Chuck Norris of “Walker, Texas Ranger” for his first presidential campaign ad.
And then there are the times he put his foot in his mouth.
He angered state Democrats and others in 2000 by telling Don Imus’ national radio audience that Arkansas was a “banana republic” and that Democrats would attempt to steal the presidential election from Republican George W. Bush. In another interview with Imus six years later, Huckabee jokingly attributed his dramatic weight loss to time spent in a concentration camp.
Calculated or not, his latest missteps are being ridiculed on the Internet and he’s becoming the butt of comedians’ jokes.
It’s a position Huckabee has been in before, and one he’s overcome.
Can he do it again?
Andrew DeMillo has covered Huckabee and Arkansas government and politics since 2005.
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press