Watching the YouTube/CNN debate on Wednesday night, I was appalled to realize that if I alone was charged with choosing the next president of the United States, and the only possible POTUS candidates were those standing on the St. Petersburg, Florida stage last night (and Anderson Cooper was definitely not an option), God help me, I'd pick the guy who doesn't believe in evolution.
Yes, of course, I'm opposed to nearly all of Mike Huckabee's stands on the issues: abortion, gays in the military, capital punishment, stem cell research and so on. But, when fielding the YouTubers' questions, while undeniably conservative, Huckabee also appeared remarkably un-poll-driven, thoughtful and compassionate. Plus he didn't seem to need to insult everyone else who held an opinion other than his own.
In fact, weirdly all through the evening, it was Huckabee who seemed to be the candidate most willing to be the President for all Americans--rather than just for Republicans.
Not so for the others on the stage: Mitt Romney still comes off like a guy playing a candidate on television, a casting director's creation. He waffled irritatingly on any question that demanded he not behave like a Republican Ken doll, and tied himself in Boy Scout knots over his former (gasp) support of gays in the military. When confronted with McCain's articulate hammering on the issue of waterboarding, he was completely on the ropes.
Then when Cooper cornered Mitt about whether he believed the Bible was, page for page, line for line, literally all true---while Huckabee, the evangelical preacher, handled the question without completely alienating those of us who don't look to The Book of Revelation for life instruction---Romney was suddenly a man wishing he had urgent business elsewhere.
As for Fred Thompson, there was his bizarre attack ad. And with each passing day, he looks more distressingly like a very tall bullfrog. I think he'd be swell at providing a character voice for the next Pixar movie. But, trust me, the Republicans are not going to select a bullfrog as their candidate.
McCain had a couple of winning moments (condemning torture), and a couple of crazy dude moments (shouting at Ron Paul that Paul's attitude would have helped Hitler win, or whatever it was he said).
And Rudy? Well, the polls suggest he's still probably the one to beat, although he's polling poorly in Iowa and, there are a zillion ways he can implode. He explained himself awkwardly on several of issues, like the 2nd Amendment question that had him scrambling frantically for the right I Like Guns tone. But, he broke out well with his opening jab at Romney on immigration: "Mitt had a sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary cities," referring to the fact that undocumented workers had been found to be employed at the governor's mansion during Mitt's tenure.
Rudy certainly had most of the good jokes: "Not bad to have a Republican who can beat Bill Clinton," he quipped when he was challenged on the successful lawsuit he brought while New York mayor to yank the federal line-item veto away from Clinton. And then there was his Yankees riff: "When I was mayor of New York City, the Yankees won four world championships....and since I've left being mayor of New York City, the Yankees have won none."
Yet it was, Huckabee, not Rudy, got the biggest laugh of the night with his answer to the WWJDCP? question. (What Would Jesus Do about capital punishment.) "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office, Anderson," said Mike and the audience loved it.
Huckabee also scored the biggest applause line of the night with an answer that was not very Republican sounding. I'm talking about his eloquent defense of college scholarships for undocumented kids: "With all due respect," Huckabee said, "we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did. We're a better country than that." And there was wild cheering because, well, we are a better country than that.
Here's the thing: If the 2008 presidential match-up turns out to be Rudy against Hillary, I think and hope Hillary will take it---although even that is by no means clear. But if by some crazy chance dark horse Mike Huckabee is the Republican nominee, we Democrats could be in deep trouble. When I took a multi-state driving trip this summer and, while on the road, interviewed ordinary people about their views on issues, it quickly became very clear to me that Americans are sick of the vicious partisanship, sick of the poison. They want a uniter not a divider.
And, while we're on the subject, Andrew Sullivan got it right in his essay in December's Atlantic Monthly: Obama is a uniter. But in a Huckabee Clinton match-up, rightly or not, the candidate I suspect is most likely to be viewed as the uniter by a big portion of the American electorate.... is the one who thinks Darwin got it wrong.