GOP's "scam artist" problem: Mike Huckabee & the right's tradition of organized theft

Mike Huckabee is a grifter and charlatan. Here's why he represents the worst qualities of modern conservatism

Published March 17, 2015 6:19PM (EDT)

  (AP/Alex Brandon)
(AP/Alex Brandon)

Last month, Right Wing News put together a report examining the financial data for 17 conservative and “tea party” political action committees and breaking down how those groups spent the considerable amount of money they collected in donations. What they found was a widespread and lucrative scam operation. The report ranked the groups by the amounts they spent during the 2014 election cycle, and found that the bottom 10 PACs spent a combined $54 million overall, but just over $3.5 million was actually spent on candidates running for office. The rest was pocketed by consultants or vendors, and it was all (probably) legal, owing to our grossly complex and loophole-ridden campaign finance laws.

What the report did was to spell out in quantifiable terms one of the defining characteristics of the modern conservative movement – it is a lucrative moneymaking machine for scam artists and hucksters. If you’re a politically engaged conservative, you’re being inundated by radio hosts, right-wing publications, think tanks, and all manner of unscrupulous activists who purchased your email address and want to exploit your love of Ronald Reagan or Ted Cruz to squeeze a few dollars out of you. And there’s at least one 2016 presidential candidate who’s in on the grift: Mike Huckabee.

The New York Times reported yesterday that Huckabee, who is entertaining another presidential bid, was until recently a pitchman for a shady company that claims it can “reverse diabetes” with cinnamon and chromium picolinate. Huckabee’s also lent his name, face, and reputation to people claiming to have “natural” methods to reverse the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, financial firms that perpetrate blatant fraud upon their customers, and a group that claims to have found the cure for cancer in the Book of Matthew.

That’s bad enough, but it’s made even worse by the fact that part of Huckabee’s public image is that of a person who took control of his own health and transformed his life for the better. He testifies for the efficacy of the cinnamon cure for diabetes by claiming that similar “techniques” worked to treat his own diabetes. He’s abusing that image to sell people with life-threatening health problem bottles of dodgy herbal supplements and cockamamie Bible-based cancer cures. At best he’s a scam artist; at worst he’s a monster.

Huckabee’s people know that this doesn’t make him look good, which is why they’re adamant in pointing out that the former governor isn’t in the cinnamon-and-insulin business anymore. Per the Times: “Mr. Huckabee’s spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, said his contract to promote the diabetes cure ended the first week in March. ‘It was something created several months ago, back in 2014, but due to possible future plans, they have concluded the relationship.’” If Huckabee does run, this shady business will follow him around.

And as a candidate, Huckabee would embody pretty much all the worst characteristics of today’s conservative movement. He built himself into a political force as a governor and presidential candidate, and then cashed in on his celebrity to become a pundit. Now that he wants to get back into politics, he’s doing it as a conservative pundit would: by appealing to the petty resentments of his party’s base and generating headlines with “outrageous” remarks. What is Mike Huckabee’s vision public service? It’s difficult to say, but most signs point towards using electoral politics as a way to build his personal brand and swell his bank account. In a weird way, a Huckabee candidacy could actually have the salutary effect of shining a brighter light on these practices.

The sheer size of the conservative scam machine and the involvement of some of the most prominent names in Republican politics are the consequence of the decades spent transforming conservatism into an insular political movement. Conservatives are explicitly told not to trust anyone or anything that exists outside the movement, and to put their faith in the “conservative” alternatives. TV news is biased, so watch Fox News. NPR is full of sneaky liberals, but Rush Limbaugh will tell it straight. “Scientists” tell you the climate is changing, but they have an agenda and Jim Inhofe can blow it apart with nothing more than a snowball. When you’ve conditioned people to associate “conservative” with “trustworthy,” all manner of mischief can be perpetrated. Add in the desperation felt by people struggling with dangerous illnesses, and you’ve got a population that’s ripe for exploitation.

And that’s what Huckabee does. He exploits desperate people who trust him. He’s part of a grand conservative tradition of leveraging one’s political celebrity to bleed dry the people who form the bedrock of the movement. Looking at this behavior, you can’t help but conclude that it demonstrates little but contempt for some of the most vulnerable people in the country.

By Simon Maloy

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