Mike Huckabee Thinks Female Candidates Require ‘a Sense of Pedestal’

The former Arkansas governor is trying to bring chivalry back.

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee speaks during the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord International Hotel and Conference Center March 7, 2014 in National Harbor, Maryland.
National Journal
Emma Roller
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Emma Roller
March 11, 2014, 9:05 a.m.

Like Mel Gib­son in that 2000 cine­mat­ic mas­ter­piece, Mike Hucka­bee just wants to un­der­stand what wo­men want. The erstwhile Arkan­sas gov­ernor, pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate, and Fox talk­ing head has been try­ing to change the nar­rat­ive of the GOP’s dif­fi­culty con­nect­ing with wo­men voters. His ar­gu­ment: Demo­crats’ fo­cus on wo­men’s re­pro­duct­ive health is de­mean­ing, and makes them “vic­tims of their gender.”

There’s good reas­on for Hucka­bee to have fe­male politi­cians on the brain. In a re­cent CNN poll, he led Re­pub­lic­ans but trailed Hil­lary Clin­ton, 56 per­cent to 39 per­cent. In last Sat­urday’s CPAC straw poll, Hucka­bee was sand­wiched between Con­doleezza Rice and Sarah Pal­in for second-to-last place.

Des­pite, or per­haps be­cause of, these losses, Hucka­bee says that fe­male polit­ic­al op­pon­ents should be giv­en a light­er touch than man-on-man polit­ic­al wrass­ling. In an in­ter­view with The New Re­pub­lic, Hucka­bee spec­u­lated on the dif­fi­culties of run­ning against a fe­male can­did­ate, and he made a com­ment re­min­is­cent of this scene from “The 40-Year-Old Vir­gin.”

“I’ve twice run against wo­men op­pon­ents, and it’s a very dif­fer­ent kind of ap­proach,” he tells [TNR re­port­er Nora Ca­plan-Brick­er]. Dif­fer­ent how? “For those of us who have some chiv­alry left, there’s a level of re­spect…. You treat some things as a spe­cial treas­ure; you treat oth­er things as com­mon.” A male op­pon­ent is “com­mon,” a wo­man re­quires “a sense of ped­es­tal.”

Hucka­bee is try­ing to con­vince fe­male voters that it is Demo­crats, not Re­pub­lic­ans, who are es­sen­tial­iz­ing them by their re­pro­duct­ive or­gans (nev­er mind that he once ar­gued that wo­men are worse at mul­ti­task­ing than men be­cause of their men­stru­al cycles). Dur­ing his speech to the RNC in Janu­ary, Hucka­bee went on a doozy of a rant, ar­guing that Demo­crats see the gov­ern­ment as “Uncle Sug­ar” and treat wo­men as “hope­less creatures whose only goal in life is to have a gov­ern­ment provide for them birth-con­trol med­ic­a­tion.”

Hucka­bee’s new quest is to pro­tect fe­male voters from Demo­crat­ic brain­wash­ing, and to de­fend the hon­or of his fe­male op­pon­ents by giv­ing them “a sense of ped­es­tal.” As Hucka­bee told TNR: “I treat my wife very dif­fer­ently than I treat my chums and my pals. I wouldn’t worry about call­ing them on Valentine’s Day, open­ing the door for them, or mak­ing sure they were OK.”

But, while I ap­pre­ci­ate a good door-hold­ing-open as much as the next girl, Hucka­bee’s chiv­alry ar­gu­ment doesn’t really hold up when you’re try­ing to win elec­tions. Polit­ic­al cam­paigns don’t have to be sex­ist, but they are in­nately un­chiv­al­rous (if they’re run well, at least). It’s disin­genu­ous to con­flate every polit­ic­al at­tack with sex­ism, and it’s a flawed ar­gu­ment made by both parties — Hil­lary Clin­ton’s hard-core de­fend­ers will of­ten cry “Sex­ism!” as a crutch against le­git­im­ate cri­ti­cism. Both sides are try­ing to con­vince wo­men that the oth­er party is con­des­cend­ing to them. But only Hucka­bee thinks it’s apt to com­pare Valentine’s Day to Elec­tion Day.

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