Towards the end of former Gov. Mike Huckabee’s campaign kickoff speech yesterday, the Republican boasted, “I will be funded and fueled not by the billionaires, but by working people who will find out that $15 and $25 a month contributions can take us from Hope to higher ground.”
He then quickly interjected, “Now, rest assured, if you want to give a million dollars, please do it.”
Some of the audience laughed and it was no doubt intended to be a lighthearted moment. But Philip Bump noticed that Huckabee’s speech appeared to step over “one of the few clear legal boundaries that now exist in the world of money in politics.”
“A federal candidate cannot solicit a million dollars, let’s start there,” said Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center when The Post reached him by telephone. “If he’s there announcing his candidacy, he cannot ask anybody for a million dollars. The most he can ask is the contribution limit; from a PAC that’s $5,000.”Huckabee’s campaign, of course, can’t take a million-dollar contribution, suggesting that his comment was pointing people to give to a super PAC. Huckabee can ask people to give to the PAC, but only up to the limits stated above. What’s more, that PAC has to be independent of Huckabee’s campaign. “To the extent that he’s implying that the money is given to him or will help him, that undermines the concept of independence,” Noble said.
Ordinarily, presidential candidates have to be in the race for a while before they’re accused of violating campaign-finance laws. Huckabee managed to raise legal concerns literally in his announcement speech.
And given his track record of deeply sketchy – and sometimes ugly – financial appeals, Huckabee has reason to be far more cautious.
But even putting all of this aside, the Arkansas Republican’s first-day message was flawed in some fairly dramatic ways.
Huckabee claimed, for example, that Democrats “took $700 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” which is absurd. He expressed outrage that “93 million Americans don’t have jobs,” which is only true if Huckabee includes every child and every retired senior citizen. (If the Republican wants to repeal child-labor laws, I’ll be eager to hear more about his plan.)
But perhaps most striking was this warning from the GOP candidate who’s struggled for years with the basics of national security: “We face not only the threats from terrorism but also the threat of new kinds of dangers, from a cyber war that could shut down major financial markets to threats of an electromagnetic pulse from an exploded device that could fry the entire electrical grid and take this country back to the Stone Age in a matter of minutes. And waiting until it happens is too late.”
This is what’s popularly known as a dog-whistle message: to a mass audience, it sounds like regular ol’ political rhetoric, but to specific in-the-know audiences, the message resonates in a very different way.
In right-wing circles, fears of weapons with electromagnetic pulses are, oddly enough, a very big deal. WorldNetDaily, the fringe conspiracy-theory website, has published “dozens of articles over the years warning its readers of an impending attack on the U.S. – possibly by Iran, North Korea, or Cuba – with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon that could leave ‘9 out of 10 Americans dead.’”
It’s all a bit weird, even for contemporary Republicans, but Mike Huckabee wanted to make clear to the far-right fringe – in his presidential announcement speech, no less – that he shares their irrational fears.