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Kinder, gentler Huck 

Until now, we’d never considered the possibility that Mike Huckabee is too nice a guy to succeed in politics. But the politics of the Religious Right are particularly nasty.

A Baptist preacher before he became a politician, Mike Huckabee the governor was never as much a Baptist preacher as friends and enemies expected. (Except in keeping a hand out for freebies. It’s a hard habit for clergymen to break, evidently.) Huckabee marched in the anti-abortion parades and he promoted “covenant marriage,” but he did not preach at people nearly so much or so vigorously as did the real darlings of the Religious Right, prophets like George W. Bush and John Ashcroft.

But as a presidential candidate, Huckabee still aspires to the “social conservative” vote and he was among several potential Republican nominees who spoke at a Religious Right summit meeting in Washington. While the others stuck to safe topics, reiterating their opposition to abortion, to gay rights, and to separation of church and state, Huckabee let a trace of compassion creep into his talk, urging his listeners to take an interest in the sort of things that presidents regularly dealt with before Bush — the welfare of children already here as well as the pre-born; improved education; aid for the poor and the sick. His comparative broad-mindedness cost him support in this forum, though among those competing for the Religious Right’s affection, he’s not as dead as his one-time rival, Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Romney was sorely embarrassed when a letter he wrote to a gay political organization in 1994 was made public. The letter was written while Romney was running for the U.S. Senate. In it, he promised to be a stout champion of gay rights, more so than his opponent at the time, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Any Religious Right politician exposed as more tolerant than Ted Kennedy is finished. The only thing worse would be getting caught kissing Hillary Clinton.

With Romney gone and Huckabee too generous, the Falwell-Robertson faction may be left without a serious candidate, making 2008 the year that old-fashioned Republicans regain control of their party. The old-timers were a cold-eyed bunch, but they could balance the budget, at least, and they’d stand up for individual rights against Big Government. They knew the difference between a president and a pope, too. Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appear to be the strongest candidates in this sinning wing of the party. No covenant marriers, they.

Huckabee’s communication skills will win him a nice job in the private sector. He’ll be happy there, once he adjusts to the lack of fund-raisers, and the limited opportunities to have things named for him. No more than a conference table probably, or a restroom.

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