I'm not really sure what to make of Frank Rich's Valentine to Mike Huckabee in yesterday's Times. On the one hand, Rich is able to cite plenty of evidence that Huckabee does represent a more palatable and Christian (in the best sense of the word) version of evangelical conservatism:
Attacked by Mr. Romney for supporting an Arkansas program aiding the children of illegal immigrants, he replied, “In all due respect, we’re a better country than to punish children for what their parents did.” It was a winning moment, politically as well as morally. And a no-brainer at that. Given that Mr. Tancredo polls at 4 percent among Iowan Republicans and zero nationally, it’s hard to see why Rudy-Romney thought it was smart to try to out-Tancredo Tancredo.
Mr. Huckabee’s humane stand wasn’t an election-year flip-flop. As governor, he decried a bill denying health services to illegal immigrants as “race-baiting” even though its legislator sponsor was a fellow Baptist preacher. Mr. Huckabee’s record on race in general (and in attracting African-American votes) is dramatically at odds with much of his party. Only last year Republicans brought us both “macaca” and a television ad portraying the black Democratic Senate candidate in Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr., as a potential despoiler of white women.
Unlike Rudy-Romney, Mr. Huckabee showed up for the PBS presidential debate held at the historically black Morgan State University in September. Afterward, he met Cornel West, an Obama supporter who deeply disagrees with Mr. Huckabee about abortion and much else. I asked Dr. West for his take last week. After effusively praising Mr. Huckabee as unique among the G.O.P. contenders, Dr. West said: “I told him, ‘You are for real.’ Black voters in Arkansas aren’t stupid. They know he’s sincere about fighting racism and poverty.”
But then, while going on about Huckabee's "benign" style and his admirable comments on immigration and race, Rich fails to mention Huckabee's Romney/Rudy-like "Secure America" immigration plan--or to get worked up about the Wayne Dumond story or, as Rich terms it, Huckabee's "sometimes wacky economic populism" (which is more nefarious than wacky). In other words, thanks to his nice-guy aura, Huckabee basically earns a pass from Rich.
Which probably isn't a big deal in the end. I can't imagine many Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina are going to be taking their voting cues from Rich. But it'll be interesting to see whether Huckabee's nice-guy schtick earns him a similar pass from the rest of the political press. Granted, the press's scrutiny of Huckabee has become much more intense in the last week or so--whether it's the Dumond story or the scoop about Huckabee's 1992 comments on quarantining people with AIDS. But for the scrutiny to have an impact, it'll have to be sustained. And Huckabee might just have one of those likeable personalities that disarms enough reporters so as to make that difficult.
Update: I see Mike's predicting that Huckabee's "national media honeymoon is about to come to a screeching halt." One data point in Mike's favor: I talked to a reporter who was out in Iowa with Huckabee last week who was amazed at how thin-skinned he was. that sort of thin-skinned attitude can be like blood in the water for political reporters.