Huckabee draws fire for comments about women, libidos and conservative Nazis

Mike Huckabee speaks on stage in Nashville on November 22, 2013. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was an equal opportunity offender on Thursday

When a Republican talks about women and sex, it's usually not good news for his political career (See Akin, Todd and Mourdock, Richard, for instance). And if, in the same speech, he mentions Nazis and the Holocaust when discussing grass-roots conservatives, well, it may be time to draft the political obituaries.

Such was the case on Thursday, when former Arkansas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spoke to a Republican leadership conference.

First, about the Democrats, government, women and their libidos. Here's his full quote:

If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it, let's take that discussion all across America because women are far more than Democrats have made them to be.

The initial media firestorm was based on a misquote of what Mr Huckabee said. Several news correspondents, such as CNN's Dana Bash, said that it was Mr Huckabee who thought women couldn't control their sex drives.

Although the record was later corrected, that didn't stop the story from going viral - and conservatives were quick to cry foul.

The day after, discussion now focuses on what Mr Huckabee actually said, and the controversy has yet to subside.

"Women, you see, are not human beings with agency and volition about their sexuality in Huckabee Land," writes Michael Tomasky for the Daily Beast. "They're nothing more than the cat's paws of the godless, baby-killing Democrats, who want to keep them on the Democratic plantation. The Pill, the welfare check, the Earned Income Tax Credit - all the work of Satan, propagated by the party of Satan."

The Washington Post's Alexandra Petri sees Mr Huckabee's mistake as typical of Republicans who don't know how to communicate with women: "Every single problem the GOP has had with women and messaging comes down the fact that they keep addressing women as though they are not in the room."

Some commentators have enjoyed watching Mr Huckabee's remarks attract national attention, as they feel Democrats can gain a political advantage.

"Media liberals aren't wringing their hands so much as begging Huckabee to explain, in great detail, how respect for women is contingent on believing that women have enough control over their libidos to have no need for contraception," writes Amanda Marcotte for Slate. "If he can get roomfuls of Republicans to applaud him wildly for sneering at birth control, so much the better."

Marcotte also noted that Mr Huckabee once supported mandating free contraceptive coverage when he was the governor of Arkansas.

John Hayward of Human Events counters that Mr Huckabee was correctly identifying what he sees as the condescending way that Democrats treat women: "The entire passage is his firm statement that he thinks women are 'smart, educated, intelligent, and capable,' and he's advising the Republican Party - an important organ of which he was addressing - to treat them as such."

Several conservative writers have pointed to a series of advertisements for health care reform in Colorado that emphases the availability of free contraceptives and includes the lines: "OMG, he's hot! Let's hope he's as easy to get as this birth control."

With that in mind, writes the Weekly Standard's John McCormack, "Huckabee's description seems spot on."

Mr Huckabee issued a statement defending his speech: "My remarks to the RNC [Republican National Committee] today were immediately jumped on and blown sky high by hand-wringing, card carrying liberals from coast to coast, some of them in the media."

If he was trying to rally conservatives to his defence, however, his efforts have been less than effective.

"There really is nothing gained by casually insulting - to no particularly good outcome - large swaths of the American electorate," writes the blogger Ace on Ace of Spades HQ (in a post that has been removed since but can be viewed here). "Now you can insult liberals and Democrats all day long. They're not voting your way, obviously. But 'women' or 'single women' are not all Democratic. Many are, but a fair number aren't. Nothing - nothing - positive is gained by tossing out a casual insult to the group."

Now, about those Nazis. Mr Huckabee said Republicans should back away from attacking members of their own party for being less than ideologically pure. He illustrated his point by making a comparison with the Holocaust, which is almost never a good idea when you're trying to win someone over to your side:

It all started when people were devalued, when people were deemed 'less than someone else. We look back on that time in history and we think, "How can educated people, university trained, how can a nation like Germany with all of its resources, with its vast level of its population with higher education, get to a place where they can do something so heinous?" You realize that the only way you can end up there is when you start with the idea that people just aren't as valuable as you are.

Erick Erickson of RedState took issue. "The differences between conservatives and the Republican establishment are not merely tactical. The differences are fundamental to the direction of the federal government over the next few years," he wrote. "In telling Republicans they should stop using words like RINOs [Republicans in name only] and challenging the Republicans who helped get us to $17 trillion in national debt, Huckabee is upping the ante on the name calling front."

Some have speculated that Mr Huckabee made his remarks as a prelude to another run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Becoming the target of liberal ire is one way to rally the conservative base to your side, particularly after Mr Huckabee's past support for anathema issues like immigration reform and the implementation of federal education standards. Angering the type of conservatives who vote in Republican presidential primaries in droves in the same speech, however, is a great way to crash and burn.

As conservative columnist Michelle Malkin tweeted: "Mike Huckabee is still a Nanny State goof who needs to go away."