Once upon a time former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was considered a serious presidential candidate with a long train of admirers on both the left and the right; as Jon Stewart took pains to note whenever Huckabee stopped by his show (which was frequently), Huckabee was the kind of guy you could agree with without being disagreeable. You might even consider voting for him for uncle.
But if you looked past the bass guitar and the PG-but-still-half-decent sense of humor, there was another side of Huckabee that's easy to forget about: He's really, really conservative. And that explains why, two weeks ago, he traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to raise money for the Yes on 26 campaign, in support of the Mississippi Personhood amendment, a referendum on the November ballot that would ban abortions in the state. All abortions. Even in cases of rape or incest. And that's by design: the amendment's sponsors barnstormed the state this spring on something called the "Conceived in Rape Tour," designed to show Mississippians that being forced to carry a forced pregnancy to term is actually quite rewarding.
Huckabee's message at the Yes on 26 fundraiser was simple: Give early and give often:
"I do not assume that you full comprehend the battle that you are going to face over the next couple of months in this fight for Amendment 26," Huckabee said. "You have no idea how many millions of dollars are likely to be poured into your state. And it's not stimulus money and economic development and job creation. It is hard-core political money that is designed to preserve the abortion industry, which is a multi-million-dollar industry specifically designed in order to terminate life and make people rich. Let's not kid ourselves. This is not about elevating women, this is about elevating wealth on behalf of those who profit from the sale of death."
You could make a good case that an amendment that would force women who have been raped to have the rapist's baby does not really elevate women, nor does banning certain forms of contraception like the morning-after pill (which supporters of the amendment call a "human pesticide"). Moreover, as I noted in my piece today, Mississippi only has one abortion clinic in the entire state, so there's not much of an abortion "industry" to speak of.
The larger takeway here, at least as far as Huckabee is concerned, is that this side of him has always been there. When he ran for president in 2008, reporters tended to focus on the underdog narrative and look past some of his wilder affiliations and controversial views. Whether that would have continued in 2012 is unknowable, but now it's all out in the open.
Protesters at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington, DC, in June 2010
The most controversial item on the Mississippi ballot this fall is not a politician but rather an idea. In November, Mississippians will vote on an amendment to change the meaning of the word "person" in the state constitution. Under the new language, human life would begin not at birth but at the moment of fertilization. If the amendment passes, it will outlaw abortion in the state entirely, even in cases of rape or incest. It might even leave some forms of contraception, and procedures such as in vitro fertilization, on life support.
Ballot Measure 26, the "Personhood Amendment," has drawn the endorsement of celebrities including Mike Huckabee and Brett Favre's wife, Deanna. The Tupelo-based American Family Association (AFA), one of the nation's leading social-conservative organizations, is teaming up with the Republican gubernatorial nominee, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, to secure its passage. In mid-September, Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, announced his support for the measure.
But for all the momentum it has gained, the amendment is in large part the handiwork of one lesser known figure, an activist named Les Riley. A tractor salesman, former candidate for agriculture commissioner, and chair of the state Constitution Party, Riley is steeped in fringe politics. He founded the group Personhood Mississippi, drafted the amendment's language, started the signature drive that got it on the ballot, and promoted it statewide starting on June 2 with an inflammatory campaign called the "Conceived in Rape Tour."
According to the most recent polling from Public Policy Polling, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst currently holds a commanding 29-point lead over former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz in the GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas). But maybe that will change after Texans watch this new attack ad from Cruz, in which he compares the state's second-in-command to the mythical chupacabra:
As a reporter covering the GOP presidential campaign, I follow all of the candidates' Twitter feeds as a matter of course. Their tweets are usually about as interesting as you would assume. But on the plus side, I was one of the first 2,415 people to know what Buddy Roemer thought about Gary Johnson's recitation of his friend's text message conveying Rush Limbaugh's joke about President Obama's stimulus package.
But when I tried to follow Texas Gov. Rick Perry, I hit a dead-end: Apparently, Perry has blocked me from following his tweets:
I can still read his tweets if I go to his Twitter page—"The Iowa countryside is incredibly green," he observantly mused recently—but they don't show up in my feed. As far as transparency violations go, this is pretty small potatoes; it pales in comparison to deleting all of your official emails after seven days, which is the Perry administration's official policy. (Perry, for his part, calls transparency "boring.") But as it turns out, I'm not alone. Perry has blocked a bunch of reporters and bloggers, including some from Texas papers like the Dallas Morning-News. In response to that paper's inquiries, a Perry spokeswoman said: "[I]t is the governor's personal account, so he manages it as he likes. He uses non-state resources."
Perry's scheme of blocking journalists is confusing not just because no other candidate does this, but because, as the Post's Alexandra Petri, put it:
All your account really says about you is that you really like Texas and enjoy the company of dogs. But if you are planning to post embarrassing personal revelations later that you don't want the press to know about, maybe you should reread the Twitter manual, because this isn't really the forum.
Yes, my coverage of the governor's record in Texas hasn't exactly been glowing. I previously reported on his slow response to systematic abuse at the Texas Youth Commission, his coziness with the private prison lobby, his shaky record on the death penalty, and the radical roots of his prayer rally in Houston, The Response. Most recently, I noted that his Florida straw poll co-chair believes that gay people are responsible for natural disasters. But here's an entire post listing good things that Perry has done that progressive might actually like.
Making things all the more confusing, Perry, at one point, was following me:
Maybe Mitt Romney's right—there really are two Rick Perrys.
But don't take it from us. After last night, even conservatives are starting to freak out about the Republican field. Here's Bill Kristol's special editorial at the Weekly Standard, one of the leading publications of the Republican establishment:
THE WEEKLY STANDARD’s official reaction to last night’s Republican presidential debate: Yikes.
Reading the reactions of thoughtful commentators after the stage emptied, talking with conservative policy types and GOP political operatives later last evening and this morning, we know we’re not alone. Most won't express publicly just how horrified—or at least how demoralized—they are. After all, they still want to beat Obama—as do we. And they want to get along with the possible nominee and the other candidates and their supporters. They don't want to rock the boat too much. But maybe the GOP presidential boat needs rocking.
The e-mails flooding into our inbox during the evening were less guarded. Early on, we received this missive from a bright young conservative: "I'm watching my first GOP debate...and WE SOUND LIKE CRAZY PEOPLE!!!!" As the evening went on, the craziness receded, and the demoralized comments we received stressed the mediocrity of the field rather than its wackiness. As one more experienced, and therefore more jaded, observer wrote: "I just thought maybe it's always this bad...they're only marginally worse than McCain and Bush."
Kristol goes on to suggest that Perry's performance was "close to a disqualifying performance." Before Kristol writes another epic poem calling for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to get into the race, though, it's worth noting that 1.) The debate started at 9 p.m., finished at 11 p.m., and was going head to head with Man, Woman, Wild on the Discovery Channel, and 2.) See point 1. Last night's debate was disspiriting for any number of reasons, but very few people watched it except for those of us who had to, and it likely did nothing to diminish Republicans' chances next November.