Opinion Brief

Mike Huckabee's 'venomous' birther gambit

The potential 2012 Republican presidential candidate falsely claims that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya. Was this a dog whistle for the GOP's growing "birther" base?

Mike Huckabee isn't known for endorsing fringe conspiracy theories about President Obama — in fact, he once called the "birther" claim that Obama was born outside the U.S. "nonsense." So it surprised many observers when Huckabee spun an elaborate theory on a talk-radio show Tuesday (listen below) about how Obama's worldview was shaped by being raised in Kenya (he wasn't) by his Kenyan father (whom he barely knew). A spokesman later said Huckabee "misspoke," and meant Indonesia (where Obama spent several years as a boy), not Kenya. But was this really just a slip of the tongue?

Huckabee's winking at birthers in the Republican ranks: "There are no coincidences on right-wing radio," says Taylor Marsh at her blog. So when a potential 2012 GOP frontrunner says Obama grew up in Kenya, "it isn't by accident." Huckabee was clearly "ringing the bell" for a "wingnut radio host" and his appreciative audience. But what makes the "obvious smear" on Obama so "venomous" is that the likable Southerner knew the media would let him "weasel out" of it.
"Mike Huckabee's venomous charm"

This was an honest mistake: "Let's call this off right now," says David Weigel at Slate. "Mike Huckabee is not a birther." Perhaps he threw "a few different ideas in the blender," including a right-wing theory about Obama's "Kenyan anti-colonial thinking." But the most likely explanation is that Huckabee is just "ill-informed" about Obama's life story. And really, would Obama "pass a pop quiz on the early years of Mike Huckabee"?
"Mike Huckabee is not a birther"

Huckabee believes this nonsense: "I don't buy the misspoke explanation," says Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic. If you look at his comments, it's clear that Huckabee is a birther of sorts — he only doubts true birthers' claims because the Clintons didn't dig up any dirt on Obama's citizenship in 2008. "Huckabee always seems a pleasant fellow," but then he says something like this that reminds you "just how extreme this affable man actually is."
"Huckagaffe"

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