Godly, Gun-Toting 'Rogue' Seeks White House
A leading Republican presidential contender has warned against electing another Bush or Clinton to the White House, saying that installing an aristocratic “ruling class” in the United States could all but destroy the country.
Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister and quick-witted populist Republican who has powerful appeal among religious conservative activists, suggested that those who “live within the enclaves of the educational and cultural establishment and elites” could not understand the lives of ordinary Americans.
While not referring directly to his potential presidential election competitors, his words resonate because Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former Republican presidents, and Hillary Clinton, the wife of a former Democratic president, are viewed as their parties’ top prospects.
The dynastic strand within American politics has been underscored with the likely entry into the Republican stakes of Mitt Romney, the defeated 2012 nominee who is a multi-millionaire and the son of a former Michigan governor and one-time presidential candidate.
By contrast, Huckabee, 59, traces his lineage to Liverpudlian “rogues” who emigrated to the US after being refused entry to Ireland. His father was a fireman who didn’t finish secondary school and his mother a gas company clerk.
“I don’t begrudge anybody who was fortunate enough to be born into wealth or prestige,” Huckabee told The Sunday Times in an interview. “It’s not their fault any more than it was my fault that I was born into poverty.”
The US, he insisted, still has “that spirit of egalitarianism that says it doesn’t matter where you come from what matters is who you are not how much money you have or how many people know your father”.
But “if we ever do transfer the essence of America into a more European aristocracy-based ruling class then I think the country in all of its great strengths is virtually lost”.
Huckabee, who like former president Bill Clinton, was born in Hope, Arkansas, and became the state’s governor, has resigned from his job as a Fox News television host, to explore a likely presidential bid.
Polls put him in the middle of a crowded Republican field. But his affable charm, his 2008 victory in the crucial Iowa caucuses, the first vote in the Republican nomination battle, and the following he has since built up on television and radio makes him a candidate to watch.
In 2008, despite his shoestring budget, Huckabee eclipsed Romney to finish as runner-up in the Republican primaries to Senator John McCain. Should be opt to run this time, his advisers argue, he will be able to amass enough financial backing to go all the way.
Huckabee is busy promoting his book “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”, a title he says describes “flyover country”, the American heartland so disdained by the “three bubbles” of New York, Washington and Hollywood, which represent the power centres of American money, politics and culture.
Americans who own guns, go to church and eat fatty foods, he said, were increasingly viewed as “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals that would rather live in the 1950s” but “I can more than hold my own – and I have - on a debate stage with any Harvard law grad”.
Indeed, Huckabee came up with one of the most devastating political putdowns of recent years when he referred to the patrician Romney, a Harvard law and business graduate, as looking to voters like "the guy who laid them off".
He said he was concerned that the US was becoming a “Europeanised” country in which secular values dominate.
“There is this incredible disconnect between the elites, the people who live within the enclaves of the educational and cultural establishment and elites, versus the people who live a very different life working by the hour, living by the day, paying rent by the month.”
He dismissed Romney’s recent surprise decision to actively consider a third presidential candidacy by stating that “it’s a free country” and stressed that the former Florida governor “shouldn’t be granted immediate status as front runner because he is a Bush”.
But Huckabee stressed that Bush was "a good friend" and "immensely qualified to be president". He reserved his sharpest barbs for Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, arguing that she was far from the conciliator and deal-maker that her husband Bill was while in the White House.
Bill Clinton was “ever the pragmatist” who realised that “you have to work on consensus” and became “a very effective president” whereas his wife was “more the ideological type of person”.
Instead, he linked her to President Barack Obama, viewed as a godless socialist by many US conservatives. “Her policies seem to be closer to that of Obama than that of her husband.”
Last autumn, Huckabee led a group of Americans, including many religious ministers, on a pilgrimage retracing the steps of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.
All three, he said, were regarded as “not fit” to be leaders but provided the world with an example that faith and tradition rather than secularism and modernity pointed the way for societies to be organised.
“At her heart, she [Thatcher] was a very deep spiritual woman with strong convictions that came not just from her political life but from her spiritual life.”