Cross Mike Huckabee on 'Today'

Discussing the controversy surrounding his latest campaign ad and the broader issue of his invocation of religion in his political campaign, the normally good-natured Mike Huckabee turned . . . cross on this morning's Today. And while contending he wanted to promote a kinder tone at this time of year, the candidate came prepared to take some pointed shots at Mitt Romney.

View video here.

MEREDITH VIEIRA: Let's talk about this Christmas ad, because it comes after you have taken some hits from the critics, first for calling yourself a Christian leader, then for questioning whether Mormons believe Christ and the devil were brothers, something you did apologize for.

Now in this ad you are say people should be celebrating the birth of Christ while the shape of a cross appears to take shape behind you. And that has led some to say that this is another overt religious appeal to voters. What do you say about this ad and about those criticisms?

MIKE HUCKABEE: That floating cross is a bookshelf, Meredith. We were all amused -- the production crew I think probably more than anyone, who put the spot together.

VIEIRA: So you didn't see that image when you put the spot together, that it might be confused?

HUCKABEE: Absolutely not. I would love for you to interview the crew. They would find this incredibly amusing. People are looking for anything in the world. It's almost like it's so
politically incorrect to say Merry Christmas anymore. I find this pretty amazing. Somebody will probably figure out as I was blinking my eyes, I was saying some special code, Morse Code and telling people a subliminal message. It's beyond ridiculous. You can't even say Merry Christmas without people getting offended by it.

When Meredith remarked on Huckabee's obvious tone of annoyance, the former Arkansas governor denied it.

VIEIRA: You're sounding like you're fed up with some of the criticisms that have been levelled your way --

HUCKABEE: I'm amused by it. I'm not fed up by it. I'm totally amazed people are so sensitive today. For example, I bet you and even david gregory are going to get off next tuesday because it's christmas. We celebrate christmas. In the harshness of this political campaign with attack ads and negative stuff coming atus every day, we decided we wanted to do something that showed, hey, folks, life isn't all about politics. Life is also about our family and friends. We thought the ad would maybe try to change the tone of the political campaign. Instead, people tried to look at something sinister behind the spot. And it's just beyond incredible to me.

A bit later, while claiming he wanted to promote a kinder, gentler tone, it was obvious that Huckabee had come armed to attack Mitt Romney.

HUCKABEE: It is Christmas. That's what we do on December 25th. Even government offices shut down that day. Couldn't we shut down the harsh rhetoric of politics for just a few days? And that's what we were trying to say. I've been attacked every day. Mitt Romney is out there saying all these clemencies. What he doesn't tell you is he never did one but he only looked at 100 cases. I looked at 8700 cases.

VIEIRA: So the people understand what you're talking about, he says you granted over 1,000 pardons and clemencies while you were governor.

HUCKABEE: Not one was walking out of prison who had been a murderer.

No doubt true, but Huckabee doesn't mention the case of a rapist who became a murderer after he was released on a parole the then governor had lobbied for.

HUCKABEE: [Romney] brags that he denied them all. Here's one he needs to talk about.

Huckabee went on to describe a case of Romney's denial of a pardon to someone who as a youngster had shot someone with a BB gun without breaking his skin, then went on to become a decorated soldier serving in Iraq. He needed the pardon to become a policeman. Huckabee contrasted Romney's denials of pardon with one he had granted to someone who had taken a youthful joyride as a passenger and needed the pardon to get into culinary school.

HUCKABEE: You let the people of America decided which person you'd rather have president: one who looked at his own political fortunes or one who actually tried to do the job and make decisions that were responsible you're supposed to serve.

There followed a lengthy foreign policy discussion during which Huckabee declined to withdraw his accusation that the Bush administration was "arrogant" and had a "bunker mentality."

Toward the end of the interview, Vieira invited Huckabee to comment on a recent column by Rich Lowry of the National Review opining it would be suicide for Republicans to nominate Huckabee. In response, the candidate engaged in some of the class rhetoric that has characterized his campaign.

Annotated excerpts:

  • The Wall Street to Washington axis, this corridor of power, is absolutely frantically against me.

Wall Street to Washington "axis"? Echoes of Pres. Bush's "axis of evil"?

  • But out there in America the reason we're number one in the polls is I'm the guy that doesn't have an offshore mailbox and bank account in the Caymans hiding my money, I'm the guy that worked my way up through it.

A viewer could easily have been led to assume the Caymans bank account barb was aimed at Romney. In fact it was Bill Clinton who was recently found to have three Cayman-based investments.

  • And there are a whole lot of people in America that believe the president ought to be a servant of the people and ought not to be elected to the ruling class.
  • [As Arkansas governor]I never did propose that we would impose our religion on somebody else. What I did could was improve children's health, the road system. But we didn't do it just for people at the top. The tax policies and other things we did, it helped other people at the bottom so they might have the chance to live the American dream. For that, I apologize to no one.

Back to the TV ad. It strains credulity that the image of the cross would have escaped the notice of the creators of such a professionally-produced commercial. Since the ad was explicitly about Christmas, and Huckabee spoke of the "birth of Christ," there'd be nothing unusual about a cross appearing. So why deny it so vehemently?

Bonus Coverage: Mitchell's Subtle Message

In an earlier segment about Hillary in Iowa, just as Andrea Mitchell mentioned that Bill's participation "can be a mixed blessing on the campaign," the screen flashed the image shown here.

Religion Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential Christianity Anti-Religious Bias Mormonism NBC Today National Review Rich Lowry Mike Huckabee