WASHINGTON — In the 1950s, during one of his two campaigns as the Democrats’ presidential nominee, Adlai Stevenson was invited to address a gathering of Baptists in Houston, where in 1960 John Kennedy would address a group of Protestant ministers to refute charges that his Catholicism rendered him unfit to be president.
This was an opinion vociferously promulgated by Norman Vincent Peale, a broadcast preacher and author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.” The man introducing Stevenson said the candidate had been invited only “as a courtesy” because Peale “has instructed us to vote for your opponent.”
In response, Stevenson repeated a quip he had made when, in 1952, Peale said Stevenson was unfit to be president because he was divorced. Stevenson said: “I find the Apostle Paul appealing and the Apostle Peale appalling.”
Now comes the Apostle Mike, determined to save Christian America. Mike Huckabee’s second run for the Republican presidential nomination will reveal how much embarrassment can emanate from one small town.
Hope, Arkansas, gave us Bill Clinton and the cloud of the Clintonian family seediness that still hovers over public life. Huckabee, another former Arkansas governor, chose Hope, his hometown, to launch a candidacy that begins with a book, “God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy,” and a post-announcement “factories, farms and freedom” tour. If the presidency goes to the most alliterative candidate, Huckabee wins.
Huckabee, who won Iowa’s 2008 caucuses, aims to become the second person to win two contested Iowa caucuses. Bob Dole, who won in 1988 and 1996, spent the intervening eight years at the center of politics. Huckabee has spent much of the last eight years at Fox News, which is dandy but hardly the Senate.
In 1998, Huckabee vowed to “take back this nation for Christ.” And to repel Satanic threats to Iowa’s subsidized ethanol industry, which he says is vital because “we need the broadest possible energy portfolio.” Never mind today’s bountiful energy.
Huckabee was unsurprised when a lunatic murdered 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook (Connecticut) elementary school in 2012: “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools.
Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?” So, the slaughter was a consequence of the 1962 Supreme Court decision against government schools administering prayers? Was the 2012 massacre of 12 people at the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater caused by insufficient praying at America’s cineplexes?
Today, Huckabee says, “We are moving rapidly toward the criminalization of Christianity,” and he asserts a biblical duty to pray for the Supreme Court justices pondering the matter of same-sex marriages.
Politico recently reported that Huckabee told some conservative pastors that “he cringes whenever he hears people call a court decision ‘the law of the land.’”
He added: “This is not that complicated. There are three branches of government, not one.” To radio host Hugh Hewitt, Huckabee further explained his rejection of the idea of “judicial supremacy, where if the courts make a decision” it is “the law of the land”:
“No, it isn’t the law of the land. Constitutionally, the courts cannot make a law. They can interpret one. And then the legislature has to create enabling legislation, and the executive has to sign it, and has to enforce it. ... [State legislatures] would have to create legislation that the governor would sign. If they don’t, then there is not same-sex marriage in that state. Now, if the federal courts say, well, you’re going to have to do it, well, then, you have a confrontation.
At that point, somebody has to decide is the court right? If it is, then the legislation will be passed.”
And if “someone” — who? President Huckabee? — decides that the court is wrong? In 1957, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus decided the federal courts were wrong about integrating Little Rock Central High School, an idea President Eisenhower countered with the 101st Airborne. David A. Graham of The Atlantic notes that if the court rules against a clause of a state’s law defining marriage as a commitment between a man and a woman, this does not invalidate the rest of a state’s marriage laws, so the state’s legislature need not act. Unless, that is, they wish to reassert the pre-Civil War doctrine of “nullification” — the right of states to disregard laws they deem unconstitutional.
For many voters, a party is largely defined by the behavior of its presidential aspirants.
For Republicans worried about broadening their party’s appeal, there is one word for Huckabee’s stances: Appalling.
George Will is a nationally syndicated columnist.