Slurs against Muslims, whether they are direct (opposition to mosque construction) or indirect (demands that the president use the word “Islam” in talking about terrorists), have become so common in conservative circles that it’s easy to avoid distinguishing them from each other. But fortunately, Peter Beinart goes to the trouble of analyzing the degrees of Republican Islamophobia in anticipation of the 2016 GOP presidential nomination contest. And he fingers Mike Huckabee for being this cycle’s flat-out anti-Muslim bigot, succeeding 2012’s Herman Cain, who supported bans on mosques and made the remarkably un-American statement that he’d never consider a Muslim for a cabinet position.

Had Cain said communities should be able to ban churches because Christians impose their sexual morality on others, or that he would not appoint a Jew to his cabinet because Jews are loyal to Israel, he’d have been hounded from the race. But because Cain made his comments about Muslims, he felt no real pressure to drop out from his own ideological side. To the contrary, he continued to rise in the polls after he made those comments, only leaving the race in the wake of an unrelated sex scandal.

That was last time. This time, the most naked bigot in the emerging Republican field is Mike Huckabee. Earlier this week, Huckabee said that “Everything he [Obama] does is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Jews in Israel. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Muslim community.” There’s no artifice here. Huckabee’s not condemning Obama for being soft on ISIS or even “radical Islam.” He’s condemning Obama for caring about Muslims. If you don’t see the bigotry, try flipping it around. Imagine if Huckabee had said that Obama “is against what Christians stand for, and he’s against the Muslims in the Middle East. The one group of people that can know they have his undying, unfailing support would be the Jewish community.” Republicans would be, rightly, calling for his head.

After noting that Huck has been talking this way for a good while, without any notable criticism from other Republicans for it (and without, I might add, quite losing his reputation for being “jovial” and a “conservative who’s not angry about it”), Beinart makes the salient moral point:

Muslims are not Latinos. They don’t have the numbers to punish Republicans for demonizing them. But that just makes the party’s moral challenge all the more stark. Tolerating Islamophobia is unlikely to hurt the GOP politically. It may even help. But it’s still a disgrace, and whether or not the murders in North Carolina were a hate crime, rhetoric like Huckabee’s and Cain’s will spawn hate crimes sooner or later. Let’s hope decent conservatives begin speaking out before it does.

I suspect that in the unlikely event Huckabee reads Beinart’s column, he’d be especially outraged for being associated with the murder of Muslims by an atheist. But as the president tried to explain at the National Prayer Breakfast recently, hate is ecumenical.

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.