Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee spoke on his political career and unsuccessful 2016 presidential bid in an event that kicked off Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service’s “Reflections on Running” speaker series March 2 in Copley Formal Lounge.
GU Politics Executive Director Mo Elleithee moderated the conversation, which about 75 students attended. The Georgetown University College Republicans co-hosted the event.
Elleithee credited GU Politics Advisory Board member S.E. Cupp, a CNN political commentator, for making Huckabee’s visit possible.
“The goal here is pull back the curtain a little bit and talk about the entire journey, not just this specific campaign,” Elleithee said.
The former governor began by joking about being a conservative speaker on a liberal campus.
“When they told me that I was going to speak at Georgetown, I thought, ‘Okay, all the conservative students at Georgetown will be there, at the small table at the Waffle House. It shouldn’t be crowded’,” Huckabee said.
Huckabee then recounted stories about his ascent to the governorship of Arkansas and experience as a Republican in a heavily Democrat state.
“I’m glad we’re going to talk about some of those campaigns, because the most recent one is not the most pleasurable one,” Huckabee said. “I’m glad we’re talking about some successful campaigns from the past.”
Huckabee highlighted the divisive nature of politics in Arkansas at the time, when the balance in the House of Representatives was 89 Democrats to 11 Republicans, and 31 Democrats to four Republicans in the Senate.
“It was a tough environment to be the fourth Republican elected in 150 years to a statewide office,” Huckabee said. “No state in the country had more Democrats and less Republicans than Arkansas. Being elected in that environment, I know what it is like to be on the endangered species list.”
Huckabee also told a story of how the state capitol received him once he was chosen to be lieutenant governor.
“When I was selected lieutenant governor, the door to my office at the capitol was nailed shut, and that was sort of my welcome. It was a very vicious environment. All of the furniture in the office was taken out and the door stayed shut for 51 days,” Huckabee said. “I worked off of an old table in an old vault until there was enough public pressure to get the door changed.”
Huckabee also recalled his 2008 victory in the Iowa Caucuses, when he was reportedly outspent by eventual nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ten to one. He reaffirmed his defense of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump in light of the controversy over the current presidential candidate’s comments on the Klu Klux Klan, expressing frustration with Republicans who have spoken out against Trump.
GU College Republicans Vice Chair Samantha Granville (COL ’17), who introduced Huckabee, said she particularly enjoyed hearing the former governor’s account of his private experiences during his political campaigns.
“I enjoyed listening and learning about his off-camera time on the campaign trail. While I do not agree with him on several policy issues, I respect him for his commitment to his state and the country,” Granville said.
According to Granville, the audience was polite and respectful, despite her expectations otherwise.
“I was fully expecting there to be protestors at the event,” Granville said. “I have to say that I am very happy by the behavior of Georgetown students during the session. I recognized many students there who I know wholeheartedly disagree with the governor, but they were very respectful, and I appreciated the openness to different and opposing opinions that they displayed.”
Following the conversation between Huckabee and Elleithee, audience members were given the opportunity ask the governor questions.
Ryan Yoch (COL ’19) asked Huckabee about his support for Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses after the 2015 Supreme Court decision upholding the right to marriage for same-sex couples. Yoch said he did not agree with many of the governor’s positions, but appreciated hearing a coherent perspective directly from the governor.
“I was definitely not a fan of Huckabee going into the event, mostly because of his views regarding gay marriage, but also because he is so far to the right he wants to abolish the IRS,” Yoch said. “But I came out of the event with a much greater appreciation for him as a person and as a public speaker. He has a talent for connecting with audiences quickly and genuinely, even if the audience disagrees with much of what he has to say.”
However, Yoch expressed doubt at the governor’s response to his question.
“I asked about balancing the rights of individuals to marry with the rights of individuals to adhere to their personal convictions,” Yoch said. “He gave me a very political answer without saying much, but it was still interesting to hear what he had to say about personal liberties.”
Jeff Naft (COL ’17) drove the governor to campus and said he greatly appreciated the opportunity to meet Huckabee and the effort GU Politics, also known as the Institute of Policy and Public Service, put into bringing him to campus.
“Getting to personally meet Governor Huckabee was an amazing experience,” Naft said. “Sophie Kim Goldmacher, Hanna Hope, and the rest of the IPPS team did a phenomenal job giving Hoyas an opportunity to learn from someone who has run for President of the United States.”