Huck-ster

You may remember back in January that Paul Waldman drew some attention at the Prospect by calling Mike Huckabee “literally a con artist” for peddling dubious health cures to his large email following. It made Paul pretty angry:

[L]et’s think about this on an individual level. Right now there’s a devout couple in their 80s who just found out that their 55-year-old daughter has cervical cancer. They’re terrified. They’d do anything to help her. And then they get an email from that nice Mike Huckabee, pointing them toward a miracle cure for cancer hidden right there in the Bible. It must be legit, because Mike Huckabee wouldn’t rope them into a scam. So they head right over to the web site, watch the video about the “Matthew 4 protocol” and the “frankincense extract,” then they send away for the free bonus gift of “The Bible’s Healing Code Revealed” which comes with a one-year subscription to Dr. Mark Stengler’s Health Revelations—half price if you’re a senior citizen!—and they whip out that credit card and start ordering all the supplements they can. They tell their daughter, with pain and fear in their voices, that this is what can cure her if only she’ll believe and they keep buying.

These are the people—gullible, afraid, at the most desperate point of their lives—that Mike Huckabee sees as marks just waiting to be scammed.

At the time some people probably read about Huckabee’s hijinks and figured it was a sign he was more interested in making money off his political career than in, say, running for president again. But today there’s a New York Times piece from Trip Gabriel that suggests something au contraire: this may be exactly how Huck intends to finance a presidential campaign!

In a wood-paneled study lined with books and framed family photos, the prospective presidential candidate looks into the camera. “I’m Mike Huckabee,” he says with all the folksy charm that propelled a career as a preacher, politician and broadcaster.

But this is no campaign ad. It is an Internet infomercial for a dubious diabetes treatment, in which Mr. Huckabee, who is contemplating a run for the Republican nomination in 2016, tells viewers to ignore “Big Pharma” and instead points them to a “weird spice, kitchen-cabinet cure,” consisting of dietary supplements….

The American Diabetes Association and the Canadian Diabetes Association caution against treatments like the one peddled by the company Mr. Huckabee represents.

As Mr. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Fox News host, contemplates jumping into the Republican field, he is haunted by his first presidential try in 2008, when he won the Iowa caucus on a populist wave, but eventually sputtered out largely because of money shortages.

Even as he seeks to put the ghosts of 2008 behind by winning over major Republican donors, he has pursued some highly unconventional income streams — not just the diabetes endorsement, but selling ads on email commentaries he sends to thousands of his supporters.

A careful reading indicates it’s not all that clear this is how Huck, to quote the headline of the Gabriel piece, intends to “fund a campaign.” His contract for the “diabetes cure” ad is apparently about to expire. But it’s a fascinating possibility, isn’t it? Get hucksters knowing they can make a buck from a particular campaign’s demographics to pay for the whole damn thing. It’s kinda the campaign equivalent of ALEC’s business model.

If Huck really wanted to supercharge this approach, he could do joint endorsements/appeals with Dr. Ben Carson, whose supporters will believe just about anything.

But while Trip Gabriel doesn’t really prove this is how Huckabee is going to finance a campaign, he does get in a really good zinger about the “diabetes cure:”

Mr. Huckabee, who earlier this year released a book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” celebrates the populist culture and values in the “flyover” states, the political identity he is preparing to run on. His manifesto appeared before he endorsed the diabetes cure, which includes numerous foods to cut from one’s diet. One of those on the list: grits.

Depending on the flour and sodium levels involved, I don’t think gravy’s a real good food for Type 2 diabetics, either. Then again, maybe Jonathan Martin was right a while back when he argued Huck might flip-flop on obesity as a designed insult to Michelle Obama.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.