Alright, Governor Huckabee, since you asked. . .
After Mike Huckabee, who portrays himself as perhaps the most loyal friend Israel has in American politics, told Breitbart News that President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” Israelis and American Jews were justifiably horrified. The Anti-Defamation League called the presidential hopeful’s comments “completely out of line and unacceptable;” the National Jewish Democratic Council said the comments were “not only disgustingly offensive to the President and the White House, but shows utter, callous disregard for the millions of lives lost in the Shoah and to the pain still felt by their descendants today,” adding his words “may be the most inexcusable we’ve encountered in recent memory.”
Objections were hardly partisan. Former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, who served under former President George W. Bush, said Huckabee’s remarks were “outrageous,” telling MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, “for anybody to equate what the president’s doing to what Adolph Hitler did in World War II is just extraordinary.” But Kurtzer didn’t stop there: “in some ways,” he added, “it’s a form of incitement . . . the same kind of incitement against Yitzhak Rabin and that led to a tragic outcome,” referring to the 1995 assassination of the Israeli prime minister by a Jewish extremist.
As Ed Kilgore notes, “Huckabee has a remarkably intimate relationship with the Holocaust as he sees it, and has been prone to violating the unwritten rule against Holocaust analogies for years.” Not just the Obama-is-the-next-Chamberlain-and-Iran-is-the-next-Nazi-Germany analogies that have become so commonplace they no longer provoke much of a reaction. Huckabee, Kilgore documents, has made repeated comparisons of abortion to the Holocaust as well. He even had the gall, Kilgore reminds us, to visit Auschwitz and then declare, “If you felt something incredibly powerful at Auschwitz and Birkenau over the 11 million killed worldwide and the 1.5 million killed on those grounds, cannot we feel something extraordinary about 55 million murdered in our own country in the wombs of their mothers?”
Huckabee’s over-the-top efforts to win the hearts of Christian Zionsts may not win him Jewish support beyond the Zionist Organization of America, which stood pretty much alone in saying it “agrees with Governor Huckabee that this Iran deal could lead to a Holocaust-like massacre of the Jews.” And we also know from the recent past that comments that offend (most) Jews may not stand in the way of Christian Zionists supporting a fellow Christian: John Hagee, whose own comments about the Holocaust that came to light during the 2008 presidential campaign offended many Jews, but his Christian Zionist activism marches on.
But Baylor University historian Thomas Kidd thinks Huckabee has gone too far even for evangelicals. Writing in the Washington Post, Kidd says Huckabee had already “jumped the shark” with other antics but that his ovens comment will doom his candidacy. “Everyone in politics knows that if you have to play the Nazi card, you’re getting desperate,” Kidd observes.
Sadly, though, we may never know what will ultimately crush Huckabee’s presidential ambitions. He ran in 2008 as the aw-shucks, I’m-a-conservative-but-not-mad-ab0ut-it candidate, and he took a lot of heat from Arkansas conservatives for being too much of a softy. In many ways, Huckabee has run in the opposite direction from that of his base—or at least the part of the base you’d think he’d be going for. He ran as the nice guy in 2008; in 2016 he’s running as a crank. But he need look no further than his own denomination, whose political point man, Russell Moore, has deliberately changed course from that of his predecessor, Richard Land, and has been sounding a consistent call for dialing back incendiary rhetoric and sensationalistic pandering.
It’s true that Moore doesn’t represent the views of all evangelicals—not even close. After all, if you have 20 percent or so of evangelicals supporting Donald Trump, it’s hard to see why they’d be mightily offended by Huckabee’s outrageous comments but not Trump’s. Given the shape of the field—Bush the heir to a political dynasty, Walker the boring one, Rubio the inexperienced, Trump the blowhard, and a cast of thousands—it’s a kind of political malpractice that Huckabee hasn’t revived his 2008 persona, that same persona which led many to think he would be the new face of the Christian right.
Huckabee’s ovens statement was a ham-handed effort to solidify his “pro-Israel” cred and show he was a tough guy standing up to that appeaser Barack Obama (and it’s that tough guy thing that the evangelical Trump lovers supposedly admire). But Huckabee didn’t just offend Jews. He provided evangelicals, the very type of evangelicals he might have had the greatest chance of impressing, another piece of evidence at which to cringe.