For weeks, Mike Huckabee has been inching up in the polls in Iowa, but recently he seems to be surging. His strong performance at the recent Value Voters Summit and strong debate performances finally seem to be paying off. He also seems to be the pundit’s choice, garnering favorable reviews from Jonathan Alter, Dick Morris, and David Brooks. He also recently won the endorsement of Chuck Norris, who might help him win over voters by simply staring them into submission.
I caught up with the former Arkansas governor on a weak cell-phone connection as he drove from the Omaha, Neb., airport to Sioux City, Iowa.
Slate: You have a bit of the buzz of the moment. Is it paying off?
Huckabee: We’ve raised more money the last six days online than in the entire first three months of the campaign. We’ve had to upgrade the server twice just to handle the traffic and get more people in to handle the phones, because we couldn’t get to them all. It’s just exploded on us.
Slate:Now what do you do?
Huckabee: We have to turn the momentum into funding. We have people who have been sitting on the sidelines, but now they’re willing to host fund-raising events. We now have a whole new energy. The amazing thing is that we’ve gotten this far by being patient and figuring if we stayed here long enough, the message would get through, and people would realize that many of the other candidates just don’t scratch the itch for them.
Slate: Does this mean that social conservatives are deciding to vote their principles rather than voting for the person who appears the most electable?
Huckabee: The rank and file are no longer waiting to be given the nod by people who are perceived to be their leaders. Many are frustrated they’re not getting more of a sense of leadership from the organizations they’ve supported. But also now even [those concerned with electability] are seeing that we have an opportunity to win. That I’m not out of this thing.
Slate: Your skeptics worry you can’t take on Hillary Clinton, about whom Republican voters are very emotional. Why are they so emotional, and can you take on Clinton?
Huckabee: Frankly, I’m the only person who can. I know her better than any other person running for president. I understand her better and how she’s going to approach this campaign. The contrast is going to be much starker if it’s Hilary and me than if it’s anyone else on our ticket. The other thing is that we’re not going to beat Hillary by demonizing her. If people believe that’s the way to win the election, they are quite wrong. They’re going to have to show contrast, but by showing a superior vision, not simply painting a nightmare scenario.
Slate: Are you going to use this moment to confront your GOP opponents more?
Huckabee: What I’ve got to do is to show people why I’ve got to be president, and people are smart enough to draw their own conclusions about the differences between us. It’s not that I mind bringing out contrasts, but to relentlessly attack an opponent—I’m not sure that’s what people are looking for. I think they’re looking for someone who can manage the government, not necessarily disable their opponents.
Slate: The pro-life movement has always welcomed converts—Norma McCorvey being the most famous. Why isn’t Mitt Romney’s conversion on abortion a part of that tradition?
Huckabee: I welcome him to the fold. I think that’s great. I also think it’s great he’s had an epiphany on the Second Amendment and the Bush tax cuts and the Reagan-Bush legacy, as well as on traditional marriage and farm subsidies. All of those are wonderful conversions, but anyone who doesn’t think the Democrats won’t use that video must have been out of the country and out of touch during the 2004 presidential campaign during the Swift Boat efforts on John Kerry.
Slate: How much of a threat is Iran, and what would you do about it?
Huckabee: The threat is real, and if they were to obtain a nuclear capacity, that would be a serious threat not just to us and Israel but to the entire world. The president has taken the right step imposing severe economic sanctions. Before we bomb them, we ought to try to bankrupt them. You take the military action as your court of last resort, but you have to keep that as an option, because what’s unacceptable is the thought that they could obtain and possibly use nuclear weapons.
Slate: Why is it unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon?
Huckabee: They’ve already announced their intention to destroy Israel. They’ve already announced that they would love to invade Iraq and take its oil. If we really want to see the rest of our economy in a complete large pile of dust in the Middle East, I think just stand back and [let them] go unchallenged in their military buildup with nuclear weaponry. This is not a nation building up nuclear arms to defend against somebody, because there is no one threatening them.
Slate: You have said that one of the failings of the Iraq policy was that the American people were not sufficiently educated about the true threat from Islamofacism. What is that threat?
Huckabee: Osama Bin Laden was largely influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb, executed in Egypt in 1966, a true radical Islamic cleric who helped to further the most radical notion of the theocracy that the Islamofacists would love to install. Because of their sense of fervor and the fact that they have completely married government and religion, there is no negotiation with an organization that is not a nation-state, it’s an ideology. They have no timeline in which they have to accomplish it. Where we want our wars to be finished in a thousand days, they’re quite willing for this to go a thousand years. It’s not about obtaining a particular border or boundary, and once they obtain it, they’ll be satisfied. They really believe they have to destroy everyone who does not help them bring about the purity of what they believe is their version of Islam.
Slate: Rudy Giuliani suggested recently that water-boarding might not be torture. What’s your view?
Huckabee: I’m going to defer to Sen. McCain. Of all the people standing on the stage, he’s the only one who has experienced torture. I’m certainly not endorsing him for president, but it’s silly for some of us to talk like we know more about the effect of torture than John McCain does. He and every military leader are quick to say that the information that is obtained from true torture—and that’s an issue that has to be decided by the military experts—but once you cross into that line—the information is not very reliable, and two, whatever we do to them, we invite them to do to us.
Slate: Barack Obama has been criticized for campaigning with a gospel singer who has called homosexuality a curse. Critics have claimed it’s as if a white candidate campaigned with David Duke. What’s your view on the equivalence of homosexuality with skin color in the civil rights debate?
Huckabee: Most of the African-American leaders with whom I’m familiar are very, very unhappy with tying the two together. First of all, because a person is black and discriminated against by sight. It’s not a matter of a relationship. It’s not a matter of even getting to find out that someone has a sexual preference other than hetero. If a person walks into a room and is black, you know it. You don’t necessarily know that a person might be homosexual. There is a different level of bigotry and discrimination. Most African-American leaders I’m familiar with believe it’s a huge jump to try to equate the two.
Slate: What issue are you talking about that isn’t getting covered?
Huckabee: One thing I hope for [is that] more information will come out [about the] Law of the Sea treaty, which some people have called the U.N. on steroids. It does have some damaging and dangerous implications for our national sovereignty. I’m hoping that more of the American people would realize it would be a terrible mistake to ratify that treaty as it’s written.
Slate: You talk about the need for arts education in school. Why? And how have you benefited from being a musician?
Huckabee: The discipline that one learns from it is important, but also the stimulation and creativity. If an education system is only left-brain and it does not properly stimulate the right brain, then it’s no small wonder why students are bored to the point of quitting. We lose 6,000 kids a day to drop-out. A third of students in our public schools will drop out of school. It’s not because these kids are dumb. They are bored. What music and the arts do is make sure that those who are right-brain oriented have their lives touched as much as kids who are logic-centered. It’s our creativity that becomes our cultural vehicle and gives us continuity between one generation and the next. Without that continuity, we not only lose some songs or artwork, we lose our capacity to transmit our culture.
Slate: Who is your favorite musician whose politics you disagree with the most?
Huckabee: I love John Mellencamp’s music. I think he may be on a different page politically. There are a lot of musicians whose politics I don’t agree with. But there’s no crying in baseball, and no politics in music.