HOPE, Arkansas — Republican Mike Huckabee launched his second presidential campaign on Tuesday with the hometown gentility of John Mellencamp Americana and the fire and brimstone of the Book of Revelation.
The same town gave Clinton his successful 1992 campaign slogan “I Still Believe In A Place Called Hope,” now was setting of a new presidential campaign, new slogans and a new presidential aspirant with big dreams and little chance of ever making it to the White House.
Adopting a play from the Clinton campaign handbook, Huckabee used the slogan Hope to Higher Ground to woo the crowd and charm the town where the National Park Service runs Clinton’s boyhood home.
“It’s a long way from a little brick rent house on 2nd street in Hope, Arkansas, to the White House,” Huckbee, who served as Arkansas’ governor for 10 years, said at the start of his speech. “But here in this small town called Hope, I was raised to believe that where a person started didn’t mean that’s where he had to stop. I always believed a kid could go from Hope to Higher Ground.”
As Huck waxed nostalgic for the ideal place where he learned to ride a bike, shoot a gun, learn Bible verses and get baptized—something darker was looming.
Because, in years since Huckabee learned the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord’s Prayer and the Preamble to the Constitution in grade school and met his wife of 41 years, Janet … that place had disappeared.
Shifting from a message of Hope, Huckabee transformed into his former Baptist preacher persona to pump up the God-fearing conservative crowd with a fire-and-brimstone sermon about what’s wrong with Washington and the world.
And the world is really a scary place.
“Eight years ago, a young, untested, inexperienced, and virtually unknown freshman Senator made great speeches about Hope and Change,” he said.
Not only is President Obama part of the country’s problem so are Washington fat cats who have made politicians their slaves, the IRS—Huckabee is a supporter of the Fair Tax movement—and big government in general. And that includes Congress.
“How can anyone ever trust government again if they steal from us and lie to us?” Huckabee said.
The former radio host had a bevy of one-line zingers about the state of affairs.
“Government in Washington is dysfunctional because it’s become the roach motel—people go in, but they never come out,” he said.
Another one that the crowd loved?
“The Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being, and they can’t overturn the laws of nature or of nature’s God.”
After all, this is what Huckabee fans have come to expect. He written several books filled with humor and folksy titles such as Quit Digging Your Grave With A Knife And Fork and, in a somewhat opposite take, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.
Since he was in Arkansas, Huckabee, of course, had to take a swipe or two at the Clintons. Unlike other Republican presidential candidates, Huckabee has an ace in the hole when it comes to the Clintons. He’s already taken Bill Clinton’s good ‘ol boy Arkansas—and won.
“I governed in a state that was the most lopsided and partisan in the country—no Republican governor had more Democrats and fewer Republicans,” he said. “I challenged the deeply entrenched political machine that ran this state. It was tough sledding, but I learned how to govern and how to lead.”
In addition to Washington, the Clintons and Obama—Huckabee also pledged to protect Americans citizens from the world’s dark forces especially Iran and ISIS.
“When I hear the current president say he wants Christians to get off their high horse so we can make nice with radical jihadists, I wonder if he could watch a western from the fifties and be able to figure out who the good guys and bad guys are,” Huckabee said.
The crowd cheered loudly, and even a few “amens” were hollered.
“We need to be able to fight for ourselves by bringing manufacturing back to our communities where we make our own planes, tanks, bullets and bombs,” he said.
Huckabee’s conservative throw-back Cold War “Leave It To Beaver” rhetoric plays well in Arkansas—and the Bible belt, which has consistently trended more Republican in the last decade. For the first time since Reconstruction, Arkansas’ governorship, state offices, the legislature and federal offices are Republican-controlled.
Red and blue “I Like Mike” signs—a take-off of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 1950s “I Like Ike” theme—waved throughout the auditorium.
Barbara Deuschle of Hot Springs, Ark., worked on Huckabee’s failed U.S. Senate bid in 1992 and has been a faithful follower for decades. She donned a Huckabee baseball cap and held numerous Huckabee signs as she cheered on her candidate for the White House.
“He is an excellent speaker and connects to Arkansas and our everyday values, our Southern values,” she said. “The rest of the country hasn’t been shown those values, but he is the man to do that.”