Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is not the sort of politician who likes to bite his tongue. But that's just what he found himself doing in the eight months following his surprising and colorful presidential campaign. (See pictures of Huckabee's campaign here.)
What did he think was wrong with the Republican Party? What did he think of his former primary rivals? What was the best direction for the conservative movement? To each question, he would answer only in broad strokes, refusing to get too specific or pointed. He was writing a book, he would say. It would come out after the election. He would "name names." Just wait and see.
On Tuesday, that book will arrive on store shelves, and in terms of payback, it will not disappoint. At once a memoir of his campaign, a treatise on the ills of the Republican Party and a blueprint for his own political future, Do the Right Thing: Inside the Movement That's Bringing Common Sense Back to America is filled with sharp words for his fellow Republicans who frustrated his bid for the party's nomination.
Mitt Romney, Huckabee's principal rival in Iowa, receives the roughest treatment. Huckabee writes that the former Massachusetts governor's record was "anything but conservative until he changed the light bulbs in his chandelier in time to run for president." He notes that Romney declined to make a congratulatory phone call after Huckabee beat the odds to win the Iowa caucuses, "which we took as a sign of total disrespect." He mocks Romney for suggesting, during one debate, more investment in high-yield stocks as a solution to economic woes. "Let them eat stocks!" Huckabee jokes.
His treatment of former candidate Fred Thompson, a rival who helped sink Huckabee's upstart ambitions in South Carolina, is somewhat more favorable, if only because it is less personal. Huckabee maintains that Thompson's biggest mistake was strategic: he didn't understand the need to expand the Republican Party beyond its base. "Fred Thompson never did grasp the dynamics of the race or the country, and his amazingly lackluster campaign reflected just how disconnected he was with the people, despite the anticipation and expectation that greeted his candidacy," Huckabee writes.
Many conservative Christian leaders who never backed Huckabee, despite their holding similar stances on social issues are spared neither the rod nor the lash. Huckabee writes of Gary Bauer, the conservative Christian leader and former presidential candidate, as having an "ever-changing reason to deny me his support." Of one private meeting with Bauer, Huckabee says, "It was like playing Whac-a-Mole at the arcade whatever issue I addressed, another one surfaced as a 'problem' that made my candidacy unacceptable." He also accuses Bauer of putting national security before bedrock social issues like the sanctity of life and traditional marriage.
Huckabee describes other elders of the social-conservative movement, many of whom meet in private as part of an organization called the Arlington Group, as "more enamored with the process, the political strategies, and the party hierarchy than with the simple principles that had originally motivated the Founders." Later, Huckabee writes, "I lamented that so many people of faith had moved from being prophetic voices like Naaman, confronting King David in his sin and saying, 'Thou art the man!' to being voices of patronage, and saying to those in power, 'You da' man!' "
He calls out Pat Robertson, the Virginia-based televangelist, and Dr. Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, for endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Romney, respectively. He also has words for the Texas-based Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed the more moderate John McCain in the primaries, as someone who was drawn to the eventual Republican nominee because of the lure of power. Huckabee says he spoke to Hagee by phone before the McCain endorsement while preparing for a spot on Saturday Night Live. "I asked if he had prayed about this and believed this was what the Lord wanted him to do," Huckabee writes of the conversation. "I didn't get a straight answer." Months later, McCain rejected Hagee's endorsement because of controversial remarks the pastor had made about biblical interpretations.
In a chapter titled "Faux-Cons: Worse than Liberalism," Huckabee identifies what he calls the "real threat" to the Republican Party: "libertarianism masked as conservatism." He is not so much concerned with the libertarian candidate Ron Paul's Republican supporters as he is with a strain of mainstream fiscal-conservative thought that demands ideological purity, seeing any tax increase as apostasy and leaving little room for government-driven solutions to people's problems. "I don't take issue with what they believe, but the smugness with which they believe it," writes Huckabee, who raised some taxes as governor and cut deals with his state's Democratic legislature. "Faux-Cons aren't interested in spirited or thoughtful debate, because such an endeavor requires accountability for the logical conclusion of their argument." Among his targets is the Club for Growth, a group that tarred Huckabee as insufficiently conservative in the primaries and ran television ads with funding from one of Huckabee's longtime Arkansas political foes, Jackson T. Stephens Jr.
The national media gets no pardon either. "Reporters facilitate the greedy and grubby process whereby too many elections go to the highest bidder and his sharpie hirelings," he writes. He remains sore about the degree to which a candidate's credibility is judged by his or her bank account and notes that during the debates, he was often asked about religion while the other candidates dealt with questions of government policy. Why, he asks, was a "floating cross" in the window of one of his ads such a media controversy when reporters gave a pass to a Barack Obama direct-mail piece that obviously photographed the Democrat before a large Christian cross?
But for all the sharp words Huckabee has for his fellow Republicans, score-settling is not the major thrust of the book, Huckabee's sixth. Rather, Huckabee, who now hosts a weekend show on Fox News, spends most of the pages celebrating the grass-roots success of his surprisingly successful campaign and laying out, again, his vision for the future of the Republican Party, which includes instituting a national sales tax to replace the income tax and renewed focus on health-care prevention and education. He mentions McCain only in passing, and with praise, calling him a "true statesman and a man of honor."
Huckabee also has some fun along the way. We learn that the actor Chuck Norris, a prominent Huckabee supporter, actually does use the Total Gym at home. (Norris hawks the Total Gym in a well-known late-night infomerical.) In the middle of a disquisition on libertarianism, Huckabee pauses to praise the musician Cher for tours that are "an amazing blend of rock concert, circus and fashion show."
He also returns again and again to stories of his supporters, like the woman who gave him her wedding ring on a rope line in Michigan because she could not afford to make a contribution to his campaign and the truck driver who appeared on his behalf at public rallies. "I was only carrying mail to the mailboxes," he writes. "It was the salt-of-the-earth types like my unknown angel in Michigan who actually wrote the letters."