Former presidential candidate and current media celebrity Mike Huckabee is in Todd Akin’s corner. And that is enough for Akin as he tries to recover from his claims about rape, without the support of Republican Party leadership.
SEATTLE — I have long been interested in former Arkansas governor, minister, and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. I have reported on him and I have interviewed him. He is not one to back away from controversy. And in the heat over Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin, who made his infamous comments about rape on Sunday, Huckabee is in a unique spot. But more on that in a moment.
In 2008, Huckabee lost a long-shot bid at the GOP nomination to John McCain. Afterward, we talked at a local radio station about where the Republican Party had to go if it wanted to leave the political wilderness. He declared that white evangelical voters — the voting base of the GOP — could not be taken for granted in that, or any election cycle.
“I would caution anybody to not assume that the evangelicals will go and vote Republican,” he said. Comments like that didn’t bring down the fire from the GOP establishment, but showed his irascible side.
That side comes in handy in his support for Akin.
On the campaign trail Huckabee was fond of telling his listeners that he was “conservative, but …not mad at anybody about it.” I was impressed by his ability to charm fellow conservatives and get away with disagreeing with them. With an aw-shucks winsomeness, he remains influential among conservative circles, playing a central role in the Chick-fil-A kerfuffle but opting mostly to stick to his mellow FOX TV show and radio program and stay away from more active politicking.
And on Monday Huckabee found himself in a highly visible spot when Akin came on the radio with him., for his first interview following his rape comments.
Akin, the conservative congressman from Missouri who’s running for Claire McCaskill’s Senate seat, tried to apologize for his comments on abortion and rape the day before (made on a local St. Louis political program). These comments prompted the GOP to threaten to withdraw their support for Akin, who’s soldiering on stubbornly.
Such is the former Arkansas governor’s position, however, that he may be one of a handful who could reach out to Akin, or, at least, do the near-impossible and place Akin in a kind of cultural context. As Mark Halperin of Time Magazine put it: “the key is Mike Huckabee.”
Huckabee had wholeheartedly endorsed Akin before Missouri’s primary vote last week. Akin is not the type to be overly worried about establishment support, nor about what most commentators think about him. It essentially doesn’t matter what “mainstream” Republicans say or do, too, including Mitt Romney. What does matter is how social conservatives like Huckabee continue to react. Standing and defending Akin without nuance may result in a distracting muddling of their more holistic pro-life messages, as espoused by the likes of Huckabee.
Fortunately for social conservatives, Huckabee, true to form, has already tried his hand at it:
On the radio Monday Huckabee threw a lifeline to Akin with these words: “[E]ven from those horrible, horrible tragedies of rape, which are inexcusable and indefensible, life has come and sometimes … those people are able to do extraordinary things.”
That was enough to help out Akin on Monday. On Tuesday Akin went back on Huckabee’s radio show and said he was staying in the campaign.