CEDAR FALLS — Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told a roomful of people in Cedar Falls that it’s important for the next White House occupant to get the “country on track” monetarily, militarily and morally.
Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas and 2008 Iowa caucus winner, said it is “politically incorrect” to talk about morality, before explaining his desire to see the courts decide with finality the personhood of a fetus.
But he said after the town hall with more than 40 people in attendance at Tony’s La Pizzeria on Wednesday afternoon that his definition of morality is simply: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”
“That kind of settles morality,” Huckabee told The Courier after his meeting. “Morality doesn’t necessarily mean that you are imposing a religion. It imposes a basic sense of self-respect and respect of others that is equal to the respect you have for yourself.”
Huckabee kept true to that sense of morality when the former pastor was asked about his stance toward atheists. Though he disputed the use of the phrase “separation of church and state” for not being in the U.S. Constitution, Huckabee agreed the government ought not to favor a particular religion.
“I would absolutely defend a person who is an atheist, whether it’s you or anybody else, would absolutely have a right to be an atheist and be protected in that. I just want to make sure that people who are Christian are not criminalized for their Christian beliefs,” Huckabee said, before once again defending the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Huckabee said he has publicly stated before — and reiterated Wednesday — that he would rather support an atheist running for office who is honest about his or her beliefs than support someone who pretends to be Christian.
When his back-and-forth on atheism with Waterloo resident Justin Scott ended amicably, Huckabee took to criticizing a culture that is often quick to judge others.
“One of the things that is so frustrating in our culture today is sometimes people think that they can judge immediately. For example, I get judged because I am a Christian. People assume they know everything that I believe and they don’t. I think I just surprised you,” Huckabee said.
Scott, a member of the Cedar Valley Atheists, said after the meeting that he loved Huckabee’s comments and appreciated that he answered the question head-on. He said his only concern is whether Huckabee sticks to that same message outside the small gathering in Cedar Falls.
Huckabee’s 150-event tour in the last month before the Iowa caucuses is in part centered on his message of being genuine.
“The one thing I know about the people of Iowa ... people here want authenticity,” Huckabee told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. “When people hear my message, they know it’s going to be the same message that I’m delivering in Marshalltown, Iowa, that I would deliver in Manhattan.”
Huckabee is polling at an average of 2.6 percent in Iowa, according to Real Clear Politics, though he has noted that most Iowans remain undecided ahead of the caucuses.
Chris Simenson, of Dunkerton, said he liked Huckabee’s message on the importance of the Iowa caucuses and their continued focus on candidates meeting with voters.
“The strength, the power and the genius is that the Iowa caucus has historically forced candidates to come and earn the vote,” Huckabee said at the beginning of the town hall. “If any other thing will win the Iowa caucus, it will be the death of it.”
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Simenson said he has always liked Huckabee’s message and likes the grasp of the issues that governors tend to have, but he was tight-lipped about whom he plans to support Feb. 1.
“Still open. I still have an open mind,” Simenson said.