Mike Huckabee will head to Iowa on Saturday to speak at a gathering of grassroots social conservatives at a 2016 kick-off event hosted by a virulently anti-immigrant congressman.
But before heading to God’s country, Huckabee made a stop as far from the Iowa Freedom Summit as he could get.
On Friday afternoon, Huckabee hawked his new book, Guns, God, Grits and Gravy to a few dozen people huddled in an auditorium off Madison Avenue in Manhattan at a private club that charges a $50,000 initiation fee and a $15,000 in dues thereafter.
In the book, he details the difference between “BubbaVille,” which is the great mass of the country, and “Bubble-ville,” which consists of the few dozen or so people gathered at the Core Club to hear Huckabee’s pitch.
But the former Arkansas governor, who recently stepped away from his perch as weekend host on Fox News to explore a run for president, presented himself as someone with a bit of a foot in both worlds—the Arkansas of his youth (even if he has now parlayed his small screen success into a beach front home in Florida) and the big city where he would fly to shoot his show. “I don’t think I could live in New York unless the mayor would let me duck hunt in Central Park,” he said. “Which I never got a permit to do.”
But as Huckabee prepares a possible campaign, he called for a kindler, gentler Republican primary.
“It is imperative that we stop fighting among ourselves because if you have suicide bombers who are willing to blow themselves up inside their own tent, then a lot of your own soldiers are going to get blown up too,” Huckabee said, urging his fellow Republicans to stop calling each other “RINOs”—or Republicans in Name Only.
Doing so, he said, means “I have now just assumed the position that I get to establish the standard of orthodoxy for Republicans, that I singularly am able to determine what it is that a Republican really ought to be. I think that is the most arrogant position a person can take, to say I am the Lord God of the Republican Party and I am the standard by which all other Republicans can be judged.”
In the SuperPAC era of American politics, Huckabee added, “it is incredibly idiotic” for Republicans to “spend millions and millions of dollars against each other to destroy and distort not just the policy, but the individual?”
“Why spend millions of dollars to say I am a better Republican and a more pure Republican than this guy?”
Huckabee should know, he has been the target of just these kinds of attacks.
Groups like the Club for Growth—which calls for less regulation and lower taxes—have slammed Huckabee’s record as governor of Arkansas for his increase in spending on social programs.
But if Huckabee was inoculating himself against future attacks, he was also in part trying to paint himself as a new kind of Republican. The kind of Republican who extolls conservative principals with a smile rather than a snarl.
When he met New Yorkers milling around the lobby waiting to hear him talk, Huckabee, in his honeydew Arkansas accent, apologized for the coldness of his hands when he shook theirs.
“I have been walking around outside,” he said.
K.T McFarland, the Fox News commentator, introduced her former co-worker by describing him as the nicest guy in the building, the one who everybody from the security guards to “the big boss who decides whether you get the job, Roger Ailes, who also calls Mike Huckabee a friend.”
But when he was asked about Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, who had a “secret meeting” on Thursday that Huckabee sneered “was so secret it was on the cover of New York Times.”
Nice Huckabee quickly returned.
“They both have strong credentials. They both have every right to run. They are both friends, and I am not going to say anything unkind about either of them,” he said. “If either one of them got the nomination I am going to have to stand up on stage at the Republican National Convention and say they are going to make a great president.”
Huckabee said the inability to find common agreement is what has sunk the current administration.
“I have been frustrated to watch President Obama because I feel like he wasted the opportunity to be a great president because he wouldn’t spend time getting to know the people who are not like him, who don’t like him and who he is not like.”
But just because Huckabee is running as Mr. GOP Nice Guy, that doesn’t necessarily extend to every community .
He said if the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, it would still not be the law of the land unless and until the president and Congress weighed in.
“There is also a higher law—God’s law. And to those of you who would have a stroke about this,” he said, just remember the Dred Scott decision, which declared that blacks would never be citizens of the United States.
“Is there anybody with a pulse today who would say that this was the law of the land and it was right because the Supreme Court said it?”
On climate change, Huckabee disagreed with the notion that the science is settled.
“There are many credible scientists, and I am not just talking about commentators on Fox News,” he said. “Science is never settled. That’s why it is science.”
Huckabee also called himself a “conservationist” who is a great believer in alternative energy but added that “the fact that we have fossil fuel energy that could sustain us for 600 years I think is something to celebrate.”
And then he addressed the ultimate third rail in American politics: Beyoncé.
Would he play his bass guitar in band alongside the singer he has spent the past week criticizing?
Yes, Huckabee said, he would. So long as he could find a song that didn’t have lyrics “that you couldn’t say allow on Fox News—or even MSNBC.”