Huckabee: A Review

January 26, 2016

Six days from now, voters in Iowa will cast the first votes in the 2016 presidential race. In seven days, multiple candidates will likely drop out, like Governor Mike Huckabee and former Senator Rick Santorum (and maybe Senator Rand Paul and author Ben Carson).

Of those, Huckabee stands as the one who seemingly had the most presidential potential. A close contender in 2008 (he essentially tied Mitt Romney for second), he ran an impressive campaign on a shoestring budget. Polls suggested he had a strong chance in 2012 in both the primary and general election, but he sat it out. Then he jumped in this time even though it seemed his moment had since passed due to too long out of office and a rightward-shifting Republican electorate.

Although Huckabee's presidential hopes are likely coming to an end, I recently read a good book about him that I'd recommend for those interested in religion and politics (hurry and read it now while he's still a candidate!). Huckabee: The Authorized Biography by Scott Lamb came out a few months ago and offers a detailed look at Huckabee's life through the last campaign. (Lamb offered some thoughts on Huckabee, Cruz, and the presidential campaign in a recent article I wrote.)

As a Baptist who enjoys politics, I've followed Huckabee closely. Yet, I still learned a lot from this book. Lamb mixes interviews and archival research well. I particularly enjoyed Lamb's ability to note seeming coincidences or other cultural markers to provide context for Huckabee's life. With that approach, we see Huckabee and his environment, not just the man in isolation. The writing style is a bit causal or even folksy at times, which I found a little distracting but warmed to as a fitting tone for the subject.

What I most enjoyed about the book is it reminded me why I liked Huckabee so much during the 2008 campaign. Lamb nicely captures the personality, political positions and rhetorical style of Huckabee that made him a fascinating and appealing candidate.

Unfortunately, it seems Huckabee's changed quite a bit before this cycle. In 2008, he ran as a experienced governor who knew how to get things done, work in a bipartisan manner, and talk about disagreements without getting angry and mean. Now he instead too often sounds like a talk show host, which is too bad because we need the old Huckabee ideas and demeanor even more this time.

Interestingly, Lamb's book pretty much ends with the 2008 campaign, offering just a few sentences to note some lifestyle changes since then. Thus, the book ends as a picture almost of what could've been, not a setup to a new race as many candidate biographies serve. It left me wanting more of the old Huckabee and regretting that chapter seems over.