Four summers ago, Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign faced a critical moment. He had little money and no one in the national media was taking him seriously — and it was time for the Iowa Republican Straw Poll. The stakes were high for Huckabee, who was struggling with then-Sen. Sam Brownback to emerge as the consensus choice of religious conservatives. Conventional wisdom held that Brownback had a leg up, at least. A poor showing for Huckabee would only reinforce this view, perhaps putting pressure on him to quit the race.
It was against this backdrop that Huckabee, the old Baptist preacher, delivered a rousing, emotionally powerful speech aimed straight at the hearts of the (many) cultural conservatives in the crowd. He saved abortion for the end, reminding attendees that “we are a people of life.” Then he slowly launched into a story about a visit to Israel that he’d taken with his daughter when she was 11 years old. At the end of a tour of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, Huckabee told the crowd:
There was a guestbook there and my daughter reached into my pocket and took the pen out of my pocket and she started writing in the guestbook her name and our address. And there was a space there for comments. And I wondered, what would my daughter — 11 years old — write in that space provided. I’d hoped that somehow she would understand why her mother and I left what was a comfortable life for us to get involved in something that can be as tumultuous as politics. My daughter took that pen and she wrote words that I will never forget for as long as I live. These are the words she wrote: She wrote, “Why didn’t somebody do something?” And with that, she gave me the pen back. And I looked at those words and I thought: She got it. Why didn’t somebody do something? And ladies and gentlemen, let it never be that someday in the future of this wonderful nation that we call home, that some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and watch her words like that and ask the question about this country. Let it never happen that someday some father would have to hear his daughter as the question: Why didn’t somebody do something?”
Huckabee’s story brought the house down. (Watch the video if you want to understand the full impact.) And when the votes were tallied, there was a surprise: He’d finished in second place, ahead of Brownback — and far ahead of expectations. Within weeks, Brownback was out of the race and Huckabee’s steady climb to the top of the polls in Iowa was underway. (The Ames speech also won Huckabee some attention in Israel.)
Apparently, the Yad Vashem anecdote was such a hit Huckabee has taken to applying it to other topics. Over the weekend, Huckabee spoke at the annual NRA convention — the same venue where he made an awkward joke in 2008 about Barack Obama supposedly being shot at — and brought up the debt ceiling during his speech. Here’s how the Washington Post described his remarks:
[Huckabee] offered an anecdote that seemingly compared silence in the face of mounting debt in modern America to those who said nothing about the rise of the Nazis.
He recalled a family trip years ago to a Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. He said he was comforted when his young daughter, at the end of the tour, wrote unbidden in the guest book: “Why didn’t anybody do something?”
“Let there never be a time in this country when some father has to look over his daughter’s shoulder and see her ask the haunting question, ‘why didn’t somebody do something?’” he said.
So, to make a point about the debt ceiling at a meeting of gun owners, Huckabee repeated an anecdote about the Holocaust that he’d previously used to make a point about abortion in front of a crowd full of Christian conservatives.
This time the result hasn’t been quite as positive for Huckabee. As Steve Benen notes, he has since been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman — which prompted Huckabee to snap that, “Israel and Jewish people need to make friends, not insult the ones they have.” and to demand an apology from Foxman.