If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is taking that age old advice to heart. Back in 2008 he did surprisingly well in the GOP nominating race, despite having neither the initial name recognition nor the fundraising success of some of his rivals. He won the Iowa caucuses and seven other states, giving him the second most number of convention delegates. Huckabee passed on the 2012 campaign, but today he announced he’s running in 2016. If he wins his bid for the White House, he won’t be the first president from his hometown of Hope, Arkansas. William Jefferson Clinton holds that distinction.
Name: Michael Dale Huckabee
Date of Birth: August 24, 1955
Place of Birth: Hope, Arkansas
Religion: Southern Baptist
Political Party: Republican Party
Marital Status: Married to Janet Huckabee
Children: John, David, and Sarah
Alma Mater: Ouachita Baptist University (BA), Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Career: Fox News commentator (2008-2015); Governor of Arkansas (1996-2007); Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas (1993-1996); Pastor
Campaign Website: https://www.mikehuckabee.com/
Twitter Handle: @GovMikeHuckabee
Huckabee kicked off his campaign in his hometown of Hope, Arkansas with a thirty-minute speech built around the theme of taking America “from hope to higher ground.” He devoted roughly three minutes of his remarks to foreign policy. Early on in the speech her claimed that after eight years of the Obama presidency that:
America’s leadership in the world has completely evaporated.
Huckabee led off his main foreign policy remarks by declaring he would stand up to the threat posed by violent Islamic extremists:
As president I promise you that we will no longer merely try to contain jihadism. We will conquer it.
He had supportive words for Israel and tough talk for Iran:
Let there be no doubt, Israel will know, as will the whole world, that we are their trusted friend. And the ayatollahs of Iran will know that Hell will freeze over before they get a nuclear weapon.
He also expressed concern about cyberwar and the risk of an “electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the entire electrical grid and take the country back to the stone age in a matter of minutes.” He also criticized
unbalanced trade deals that forego congressional scrutiny and then looking the other way as the law is ignored so that we can import low-wage labor, undercut American workers, and drive wages lower than the Dead Sea.
China, Russia, Cuba, climate change, and nuclear proliferation were among the foreign policy topics that didn’t make it into the speech.
Huckabee was the first male member of his family to graduate from high school. After graduating from college, he attended a Baptist seminary in Texas for a while before dropping out. He eventually returned to Arkansas to become a pastor. He was popular with his parishioners and his colleagues; in 1989, he became head of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.
Huckabee ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992 against incumbent Democratic Senator Dale Bumpers. He lost soundly. The next year he won a special election for Arkansas lieutenant governor. In 1996, he became governor when Governor Jim Guy Tucker resigned after being convicted of fraud and conspiracy. Huckabee was elected governor in his own right in 1998 and then again in 2002.
After his failed 2008 presidential run, Huckabee joined Fox News. He hosted his own show, which was appropriately called Huckabee. He left Fox early this year to mull over his presidential run. Many of his Fox News videos remain on the Internet. In 2012, he branched out to radio with The Mike Huckabee Show. It ended in December 2013. He also wrote The Huckabee Report, a thrice daily commentary that at one point was heard on more than 500 radio stations.
Foreign Policy Views
Foreign policy was not a focal point of Huckabee’s 2008 campaign. To disarm his critics, he liked to quip:
I may not be the expert that some people are on foreign policy, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
But it’s the nature of modern presidential campaigning that candidates eventually have to stake a flag on foreign policy. Huckabee laid out his vision of “America’s Priorities in the War on Terror” in a Foreign Affairs article. He also took positions on issues such as democracy promotion in the Arab world, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Russia, and climate change, though he said little or nothing about places like Africa, India, and North Korea.
Will Huckabee stake out the same positions in 2016? Well, he says:
I haven’t, to my knowledge, changed a single belief or conviction. I believe everything I believed in 2008.
But events (and politics) have changed a lot over the last seven-plus years. So it wouldn’t be surprising or remarkable if his specific views have evolved or changed.
What is clear is that Huckabee, like all of his GOP rivals, disapproves of how President Obama has handled foreign policy. His rhetoric at times veers to the extreme, making even his fellow conservatives uncomfortable. For example, he has urged young Americans thinking of joining the military to:
wait a couple of years until we get a new commander-in-chief that will once again believe ‘one nation under God,’ and believe that people of faith should be a vital part of the process of not only governing this country, but defending this country.
Huckabee has been equally biting about Obama’s handling of Middle East issues:
Everything he does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the radical Muslim community or the more moderate Muslim community.
When Huckabee discusses foreign policy, he focuses on Islamic extremism rather than, say, the rise of China or Russian revanchism. In a short teaser campaign video released last month, Huckabee mentioned foreign policy and jumped immediately to the radical Islamic threat:
I will lead with moral clarity in a dangerous world. There’s a difference between right and wrong. There’s a difference between good and evil. I’ll keep all the options on the table in order to defeat the evil forces of radical Islam.
He sees the Islamic extremist threat extending well beyond the Middle East:
I don’t think we’ve done an adequate job of explaining to younger people that what is happening in the Middle East is not limited to the Middle East. Everything [the Islamic State] is doing there is the warm-up act to what they plan to do here.
How would Huckabee defeat violent Islamic extremists? He has not laid out a specific blueprint, but in a recently released ad, he strongly implied that the answer was force.
When you’re dealing with Islamic jihad, that has as its goal the annihilation of everyone who does not agree with their absolute religious fanaticism, you’re dealing with a rattlesnake…As a kid growing up in south Arkansas, one thing I learned about rattlesnakes, you don’t try to get in their head and figure out why they want to bite you. You don’t try to have a conversation with them. You don’t negotiate with them. You sure as heck don’t feed them. You take their heads off with a four ten shotgun or a hoe before they bite you—because the one thing that you can be sure of is that snake will bite you if he can.
Huckabee has yet to explain why his envisioned use of force would be more successful than George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s.
Huckabee thinks the potential nuclear agreement with Iran is “a terrible deal.” He likens it to giving a pyromaniac gasoline and a book of matches because Iran would retain a capacity to enrich uranium:
The thought of giving them 6,000 centrifuges—I mean, this is the equivalent of saying, alright we got a pyromaniac in our neighborhood. We’re not going to let him have a 50-gallon drum of fuel and a cigarette lighter, but we are going to let him have a 10-gallon gas can and a book of matches. That way we’ll just hold him back and he can’t burn as much down. I mean, would anyone in his or her right mind allow that? Of course, we wouldn’t. I mean, this is the true essence of insanity when you let people who have violated every agreement they’ve ever, ever made under the ayatollahs, when you believe them for a moment that they’re really not going to use all of that nuclear capacity for some nefarious purpose.
Huckabee hasn’t said how he would compel Iran to give up its enrichment program, or how he would persuade U.S. allies, let alone China and Russia, to be tougher in dealing with Tehran. What we want is not necessarily what we can get.
Huckabee touts his support for Israel. He’s visited the country so often that he says he’s lost count of the number of trips. He has written that “you’ll be hard pressed to find a more full-throated defender and supporter of the Jewish state.”
Huckabee has repeatedly criticized Obama’s handling of relations with Russia. One of his favorite lines is that if Putin shivers it’s “probably just because he was going shirtless,” not because he fears the United States. In April 2014, he told his followers on Facebook:
Vice President Joe Biden was in Ukraine this week. He called on Russia to stop supporting these insurgents who are sowing unrest in Ukraine. That prompted Sen. John McCain to ask the obvious question: “Or else what?” McCain said, “If they continue to do this, what will we do?” Indeed, that is the big, uncomfortable question. Americans don’t want to go to war against Russia any more than they wanted to go to war with Syria. But this long string of empty threats is doing nothing but eroding any lingering respect we might still have on the international stage. Biden reassured Ukraine’s acting president that they aren’t walking this road alone. He said, “We will walk it with you.” But Obama was 6,000 miles away. That’s quite a walk. And nothing says a President is absolutely committed to an issue like sending the Vice President to take care of it for him.
Huckabee has yet to say whether his preferred policy for dealing with Russia would differ in substance or just in tone from Obama’s.
Perhaps anticipating charges that he lacks of the experience needed to handle the foreign policy threats he sees, Huckabee argues that having an encyclopedic knowledge of world affairs matters less than having a good team of advisors and the skill to weigh their advice:
I don’t believe a person in the chief executive’s role is necessarily an encyclopedia for naming all the names of the foreign leaders and being able to point to the capitals on the map, as much as it is to process information: Is he willing to take the analyses of the people who’ve spent their entire lives becoming absolute experts and analyzing, then having good judgment?
Not surprisingly given that he just began campaigning, Huckabee has not said who he turns to for advice on foreign policy.
More on Huckabee
Huckabee has written a dozen books. His most recent one is God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy (2015), which explores the differences between the “Bubble-villes” where policymakers live and “Bubba-villes” where most Americans live. The book got more attention, though, because it criticized Beyoncé for having dance moves “best left for the privacy of her bedroom.”
The New York Times profiled Huckabee back in 2007; the New Yorker did likewise in 2010. Politico details Huckabee’s preparations for 2016 and explores how he is the other man from Hope. The Washington Post details Huckabee’s many trips to Israel and the calculations that persuaded him to think seriously about running in 2016. NPR has “5 Things You Should Know About Mike Huckabee.” The Upshot says that Huckabee may be a more important candidate than you think. The Washington Post agrees. The New York Times details some of Huckabee’s unconventional money-making ventures in recent years.
Rachael Kauss assisted in the preparation of this post.