Anyone who thinks that Mike Huckabee, the most dangerous presidential candidate for the LGBT community, is out of the running because of his third-place showing in New Hampshire this week is sadly mistaken.
Unlike the Iowa Republican caucuses, where the 60 percent of the participants who were evangelical Christians gave Huckabee his first-place victory, in New Hampshire only 1 in 5 Republicans is an evangelical. But the former Southern Baptist preacher is favored to win the January 26 Republican primary in South Carolina, a state dominated by fundamentalist Christians, a crowd who defeated Senator John McCain in the presidential primary there in 2000. Among the most significant Huckabee backers in South Carolina is popular former Governor David Beasley, who oversaw an economic boom, and is actively campaigning for him there.
And in Florida's January 29 primary, the latest polls show Huckabee at second place and within margin-of-error striking distance of that state's front-runner, Rudy Giuliani.
Then it's on to Super-Duper Tuesday on February 5, in which half of the 22 states that vote are either Southern or Bible Belt.
Huckabee's campaign began with a big potential base - a much-coveted list of 71 million so-called "Christian voters" assembled by R. Randolph "Randy" Brinson, an iconoclastic social conservative doctor from Alabama who has become a Huckabee supporter, and whose up-to-date asset represents a target-rich environment for his favorite candidate.
Although he won Iowa without a penny, Huckabee has been able to raise increasing amounts of money based on his victory there. Furthermore, he is the most skilled user of television ever seen in American politics, with his seductive, neighborly charm and his rapid-fire sense of humor and spontaneous jokes.
The media have been utterly seduced by him:
"It's hard not to like Mike Huckabee," gushed Newsweek, and even the left-wing mag The Nation has said he has "real charm." Plus, his populist brand of "compassionate conservatism" goes over well with middle-class and working-class GOP voters alike.
And Huckabee's proposal to scrap the entire federal tax code and replace it with a national sales tax appeals mightily to the GOP's small-government fiscal conservatives. He is, indeed, a formidable presidential contender in a party whose core base and activist shock troops are drawn from the religious right.
But what is the Huckabee reality behind this winning faÃ§ade?
Call him The Huckabasher - he once said that homosexuality was an "aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle."
Huckabee cut his eye-teeth in Christian Right politics as the PR man for the Reverend James Robison of Texas, a televangelist and one of the most virulently anti-gay leaders of the Moral Majority. Then, Huckabee became a cleric of the Southern Baptist denomination, with degrees from Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and pastored two congregations.
He also headed up a religious television station, and largely on the strength of the visibility that gave him, became the youngest president ever of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the largest denomination in the state. In turn, he used that post as his springboard to the state house, first becoming lieutenant governor of Arkansas, then governor, when his predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, was forced to resign in disgrace.
Southern Baptists like Huckabee not only accept as literally true the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality, but they have also declared that homosexuality is a "manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards."
Southern Baptists believe that homosexuality is caused by unhealthy relationships between children and parents and that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. Hence, the denomination has been in the forefront of supporting and promoting the "ex-gay movement" and reparative therapy, an approach thoroughly repudiated by the psychiatric profession.
Not surprisingly, Southern Baptists also believe it is proper to discriminate against homosexuals in employment and other areas in order to protect the family and other social institutions.
Huckabee today still affirms his belief in the entire Southern Baptist credo, including its anti-gay theological fulminations. His recent TV ad in Iowa proclaimed in large letters that he is a "Christian Leader" and showed the candidate saying, "Faith doesn't just influence me - it defines me."
Even James Bopp, an attorney for Focus on the Family, wrote in the January 12 issue of the conservative weekly National Review, "By emphasizing his qualification for office as a 'Christian leader,' the Huckabee campaign, however, has implicitly, and some of his supporters have explicitly, promoted a religious test for office."
In his speech at the "Values Voter Debate" organized by a group of Religious Right leaders last September 17, Huckabee pledged himself to a long far-right wish-list- an agenda that includes leading an effort to pass a constitutional amendment affirming marriage as "one man, one woman, for life," vetoing hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stripping schools of federal funding for exposing children to "homosexual propaganda," repealing IRS restrictions on churches endorsing candidates, and boosting federal abstinence spending to match contraceptive funding.
In his frequent perorations against gay marriage, Huckabee proclaims, as he told the Boston Globe last year, "Until Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain saying he's changed the rules, let's keep it like it is."
In 1997, during his first legislative session as governor, Huckabee signed one of the nation's first "defense of marriage acts" (DOMA), which banned homosexual marriage in Arkansas. He later endorsed and helped campaign for a similar state constitutional amendment in 2004, which Arkansas voters passed.
In an interview in the current issue of GQ magazine, Huckabee said that gay marriage is a threat to civilization itself and civil unions are not an acceptable alternative.
"You have to have a basic family structure," he said. "There's never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived."
He also rejected civil unions for same-sex couples, calling them a "precursor to marriage," and adding, "Once the government says this relationship is in essence similar to or equal to a marriage - we're not going to call it that, but that's what it is - and you grant it the same basic rights as marriage, then you've effectively done it."
As the Associated Press reported on December 9, Huckabee "once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure, and said homosexuality could 'pose a dangerous public health risk.'"
In 1992, during a US Senate bid, he wrote, "If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."
Huckabee later claimed to the AP his comments reflected uncertainties at the time about how HIV was transmitted, but the wire service pointed out that by 1992 anybody with the most casual knowledge of the virus knew you could not be infected through "casual contact."
That year, Huckabee answered 229 questions submitted to him by the AP. Besides supporting quarantine, Huckabee suggested that Hollywood celebrities - rather than federal health agencies - fund AIDS research from their own pockets.
As governor, Huckabee supported a state ban on gay couples becoming foster parents. Arkansas is one of only three states with legislation of this kind still on the books. When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in 2006, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Huckabee questioned the intentions of the gay couple serving as plaintiffs in the case.
"Was the purpose for their filing suit because they felt very, very compelled to become foster parents or because the ACLU used them as the vehicle to make a political point in the court?" Huckabee asked.
Although Huckabee cleverly dances away from questions about his past theological postures that paint him as religious extremist, he uses a double language, one for the TV audience, and one for the Christers. As the Washington Post reported, as recently as January 6 Huckabee delivered a 20-minute sermon to an evangelical church in Windham, New Hampshire, on how to be part of "God's Army."
Said the presidential hopeful, "When we become believers, it's as if we have signed up to be part of God's Army, to be soldiers for Christ," And before that enthusiastic audience, Huckabee likened service to God to service in the military.
"There is suffering in the conditioning for battle," the candidate said, adding, "You obey the orders."
Don't be fooled by his recent verbal tap-dancing: Huckabee is still a dangerous, died-in-the-wool anti-gay theocrat - and he could well be the Republican nominee for president.
Doug Ireland may be reached through his blog, DIRELAND, at http://dir