An examination of the rather different tone associating Mike Huckabee’s proto-candidacy for 2016 was inevitable, and it’s been served up usefully by David Freedlander at The Daily Beast. In 2008, he observes, Huck had quite the reputation for being sunny:

Frank Rich, in The New York Times, wrote that Huckabee was the Republican Obama. Rich attributed Huckabee’s rise in the polls to “his message,” which “is simply more uplifting—and, in the ethical rather than theological sense, more Christian—than that of rivals, whose main calling cards of fear, torture and nativism have become more strident with every debate. The fresh-faced politics of joy may be trumping the five-o’clock-shadow of Nixonian gloom and paranoia.”

It was an idea that ricocheted around liberal blogs and talk radio outlets. Sure, Huckabee’s views on social issues were a bit out of right field, but they weren’t appreciably different from those of the rest of the GOP field. And the rest of his policy ideas, even when right-leaning, were bathed in a soft, summer camp biblical glow. People of faith, he said in one memorable speech, need to show that they “are not just angry folks mad about some things we don’t like, but people who have joy in our hearts. People who want to help those without housing to find it, those without drinking water to drink it, to help people who are hungry at night to know what it is to have food.”

Contrast that with today’s Angry Huck:

This new Huckabee told the New Hampshire Freedom Summit, “I’m beginning to think that there’s more freedom in North Korea than there is in the United States.” It’s the Huckabee who said Democrats want the women of America to “believe that they are helpless with Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of government.” Gone is the talk of evangelicals approaching the political sphere “with joy in our hearts.” Instead, Huckabee now wonders, “Why is it that Christians stand back and take it in the teeth time and time and time again?” It is this Huckabee who defended the Duck Dynasty reality star’s comments on gay marriage and civil rights in the South but accused those who criticize Chick-fil-A’s corporate anti-gay marriage stance of engaging in “vicious hate speech.”

Freedlander bats around several possible explanations for this new, more saturnine Huckabee, from the most obvious (the mood of “the base”) to the more personal (Huck’s furious at himself that he didn’t run for president in 2012). My favorite is the claim from an old rival in Arkansas who says it’s the Happy Huck that was a pose:

“He might have been a Baptist preacher, but he had a mean streak a mile wide,” said Jimmy Jeffress, a former Arkansas lawmaker who served in the statehouse during Huckabee’s tenure.

I’m guessing Jeffress isn’t a Baptist, since he seems to be unaware that meanness is a prized quality in some ministers of that faith community. I once saw a cap on sale at a convenience store in South Georgia with a message that expressed the approach perfectly: “Read the Bible daily. It will scare the Hell out of you.”

In any event, it will be interesting to see if the new Mean Mike persona cuts into the relatively good press Huck is used to getting from people who don’t actually agree with him on much of anything. Indeed, that could be part of the idea: How can “the base” fully get on the bandwagon of anyone smiled upon by the godless liberal media? If that doesn’t work, maybe Huckabee will have to put away the bass guitar.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.