In a bit of sober-minded political analysis that even he admitted was "rare," former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday night from some of the more inflammatory charges in a new ad launched by his opponent, Sharron Angle.
Appearing on Fox News's Hannity, Huckabee was asked to assess a series of recent ads being aired in various congressional elections. The final clip shown was a harsh, twisting spot put together by the Angle campaign attacking Reid for backing the stimulus, supporting government services for illegal immigrations and (the headline grabber) voting "to use taxpayer dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted child molesters and sex offenders."
"I think holding people accountable for their votes is very effective," host Sean Hannity chimed in.
"It is," said Huckabee. "Now in fairness to Harry Reid, and you will find this rare, a vote like that where you say he voted to give Viagra... Some of these bills have all these little provisions. He may be unaware that that was in the bill."
"He should read the bill," said Hannity.
"I understand," Huckabee replied. "But this a classic example. It is good politics. It is great politics. But it is one of those instances where it sounds like he said 'Yes, there is a bill that is going to provide Viagra.' And that was the primary purpose of the bill... [An ad like that] doesn't always work. I tell you what always has to happen. The spot has to be believable. If you say he spent $787 billions, that's believable because you know he did it. This ad, you have to make sure that the voters believe that he really, really did that. That's the tough part."
In fact, Reid didn't do that. The bill in question was not a bill at all. It was an amendment offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in an effort to trip up health care reform. The Oklahoma Republican introduced the most politically palatable, non-objectionable piece of legislation in hopes that Democrats would relent, pass it, and change the content of the health care law they were hoping to pass through reconciliation. If Democrats didn't bite, the GOP would have ammo for the type of attack ad that Angle has now aired. Only the Nevada Republican got the details wrong. Coburn's amendment didn't provide taxpayer funds for Viagra; it prevented sexual predators from being able to use government subsidies or money to buy the drug (and other ED pills).
Huckabee, in the end, was restrained in his effort to balance out the ad's allegations. What mattered, he was saying, was not that the charge was true (he had no clue if it was or wasn't), merely that it was believable. But his pushback against Hannity's enthusiasm for the spot was noticeable and fairly rare for the show where the exchange took place.