WASHINGTON – Mike Huckabee says he is mystified by the liberal criticism of his remarks on women, contraception and libido, which erupted yesterday as the former Arkansas governor actively weighs a presidential campaign.
Huckabee, a Fox News host, says his comments were “virtually identical” to what he said on his network show last weekend, which he said produced no reaction.
“I'm always flattered when people on the far left manufacture a new version of being ‘offended,’” Huckabee told me. “They can be quite creative in finding something that hurts their feelings.”
Huckabee’s predicament stems in part from his dual role as a Fox commentator and political player who, as he has told me and other journalists, is weighing a second bid for the White House in 2016.
In his speech to the Republican National Committee's winter meeting on Thursday, Huckabee said: “If the Democrats want to insult women by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.”
He added: "Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women. That’s not a war on them, it’s a war for them.”
The use of the word “libido” brought an avalanche of criticism from the left. The Huffington Post ran a screaming headline, “Huckabee: Dems Think Women ‘Can’t Control Their Libido.” MSNBC has run segments titled “Hucked Up” and “What the Huck?”
Huckabee put part of the blame on two network reporters, NBC’s Kasie Hunt and CNN’s Dana Bash, who “erroneously tweeted” his remarks “to mean the polar opposite” and had to correct the tweets “because they so totally blew it…and now it’s a scandal?”
On Twitter, Hunt and Bash both presented the comments about “Uncle Sugar” and “libido” as Huckabee’s view. About half an hour later, Hunt wrote: “To be clear: Huck says DEMS believe ‘helpless without Uncle Sugar”…”
Bash wrote, “2b clear @MikeHuckabee said DEMS insult women…”
Huckabee, saying that he has an “outspoken wife” and appointed more women in Arkansas than any other governor, told me: “If people read the actual words I said in context, everyone who wants to understand it will.”
Pressed today about his use of “libido,” Huckabee said by e-mail: “Women (like men) are sexual beings, but they are much more than that. To reduce either gender or any person to one aspect of their being is an unfair characterization. My point was to point out that Dems have put a laser like focus on government funded birth control and given it more attention than cancer drugs.”
As for the word, “never thought about every word parsed apart from the overall message, so not sure why that one word attracts such attention in the context of the statement. It adds color and as a communicator yourself, you probably try to write so as to create vivid pictures. Libido is a normal part of being human. Nothing scandalous about it. But without it, in either women or men, would there be a demand for birth control?”
The Huckabee controversy comes at a time when Republican Party officials are urging candidates to be more sensitive in their language about women. As a potential candidate, Huckabee’s remarks could appeal to the evangelical wing of his party. But as a commentator, he has put himself in the middle of a media storm.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.