This week, I had the privilege of visiting with the former governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, during his visit to Jerusalem. As a native Arkansan, the entire setting of the meeting was very reminiscent of the Huckabee that I have been used to seeing for years as my lieutenant governor, my governor, and then later as a U.S. presidential candidate.
There were no flashing lights or crowds or fanfare. He instead hosted a small roundtable briefing for members of the Israeli press at the David Citadel Hotel, and he shone in pure Huckabee form.
Huckabee is known for his quick wit, folksy mannerisms, and eloquence, but most importantly his blunt but courteous honesty. Each of these characteristics has contributed to the longevity of Huckabee's popularity. Frankly, Huckabee's fellow Republicans could learn from him.
Huckabee served for 10 years as a successful governor, and made a significant showing during the 2008 Republican primary season with little name recognition and even less money. Now, his television and radio shows have made him a media superstar among conservatives and moderates alike. He is a much sought-after public speaker, and his books are best-sellers.
In listening to Huckabee field questions from the Israeli press, it is clear how he has remained a relevant voice in American and international public discourse.
The meeting should have been filmed and sent to the Republican National Committee headquarters for one of their candidate training sessions. For each question, he had a fair, honest and intelligent answer.
On the Republican message? Tough love.
"The tone of the GOP needs to be more expressive in two things. First of all, we need to express more about what we are for not what we are against. Secondly, we need to put more focus on small business — not big business — where the real jobs are created."
On President Barack Obama's re-election? Realism.
"Part of the success of President Obama was that he ran the most sophisticated and stunning political operation that has ever been put together. They understood voters, and had stellar targeting. It was not his message. Eight percent unemployment does not resonate with anybody. Gas prices that are twice as much as they were last year don't resonate with anybody. When you have the unbelievable machinery that he used to identify voters, then you win elections."
On the so-called "end of the Republican Party"? Cautious optimism.
"I don't see this so-called 'landslide' that people saw. The popular vote was not that large. President Obama won mainly the East and West coasts, and he won urban areas. He loses the rest of geography. The only thing more predictable than the swing of the political pendulum is the noise of the chattering class that a political party is dead. They have done this decade after decade in the 60s, 80s, 90s, and now with President Obama. I really believe that 2014 is going to be a 'turn year' for the Republicans — not against them."
On Obama and Israeli settlements? Practicality.
"I can't predict what President Obama will do. I never hear Americans say that Israelis are doing something awful by building settlements. I think Americans are more concerned about the [Arab] bombs. This is an issue that has to be settled in Israel."
On the apparent disconnect between American and Israeli Jews? Not just another evangelical view.
"I have often chided my Jewish friends about why as an evangelical I am more pro-Israel than some of them. I think it may be that they may not want to show an overt favoritism that others may not understand. On the other hand, some differences are inexplicable. The pro-Israel stance is not lessening in America. It is growing, and it has always been strong among Orthodox Jews. When Americans see what happens in places like Egypt — when they see it's supposed to be more open and democratic for women — and then you see a president of a country that says Jews are bloodsuckers, then Americans see that there is not accountability for it. There is something wrong. What would have been the reaction if [Netanyahu] had said the same thing about another country's citizens? Every country would have pulled their ambassadors, the U.N. would have sent a strongly worded letter, and Netanyahu would not have been ever to serve again. Where is the accountability? We didn't even have a demand. We didn't say 'not another dime to your country.' We actually sent him a check! The American people see this and are outraged — regardless of whether they have a pro-Israel stance or not."
On American press coverage? An appeal for honesty.
"There is an American pastor being held and tortured in Iran. Americans see this and say something is not right here. ... There is a new concern about the Arab Spring. The request I have is that the American press will be more honest about what is going on. … I am hoping that there can be some kind of intellectual honesty. … I am going to ask my [tour] group when they get here to look around and look at the newspapers, and they will say, 'Wow! I thought our papers could be cantankerous!' … That is democracy: the right to be this way. … I salute the fact that in Israel there is room for dissent. I come here sometimes to enjoy the fact that there is room for real political dissent."
On whether America should be involved in Syria? Candor.
"I am not sure the United States is up for yet another military intervention. I do think that helping those who are trying to overthrow a brutish government is something that Americans can do. How? Maybe by [sending] supplies. ... I don't know that anyone in Syria expects anyone to drop in with paratroopers and save the day but I do feel that Americans applaud those who are fighting for freedom."
I miss politicians like Huckabee. People who answer rather than dodge questions. People who are willing to travel to the countries of significance to the international stage rather than pontificate on foreign affairs as if they are experts.
Will he run for office again in the future? I don't know, but I do know that while listening to the governor field questions from the press, I was reminded of one of his 2008 campaign themes that was borrowed from the "I like Ike" movement to draft Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for the U.S. presidency: I like Mike.
Princella D. Smith is an American freelance contributor for Israel Hayom. Originally from Arkansas, she was a communications staffer to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and has also served as a communications director on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is currently a graduate student at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy & Strategy of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel.