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Mr. 'Total Conservative'--
Interview with Mike Huckabee

Since Mike Huckabee finished third in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, the former governor of Arkansas, author and ordained Southern Baptist minister seems to have found a new career in television and radio. "Huckabee," his hour-long show on Fox News Channel on Saturdays, is a mix of politics, entertainment and interviews with newsmakers, politicos and celebrities. I talked to Him by telephone recently, as he headed for a meeting in New York City:

Q: Are you secretly happy you're not the president right now?

A: Well, no. I wouldn't characterize [it like] that. I certainly know it's a challenge, but in many ways, in light of the policies that are being put forth, I wish I was.

Q: What's your aerial assessment of President Obama's actions and rhetoric so far?

A: He's completely governing almost opposite of what I had not only expected but had predicted he would do. ... Let me give you an example. I thought that he would be much more careful not to stir up controversial things early in his term; that he would have learned from the Clinton debacle of '93; and that he would have left alone a lot of very controversial items like some of the sanctity-of-life issues and same-sex marriage issues. It's been somewhat surprising that he's taken those on immediately.

The other thing that has surprised me is that the rhetoric of his campaign was so built around the importance of hope and a different way of doing business in Washington, and then when he gets there, he essentially fills the Cabinet and his administration with very seasoned Washington insiders.

Q: Is there anything that leaps to your mind that Obama should be doing differently -- mainly the economic stuff?

A: Absolutely. What we need to be doing is realizing that we got in trouble by spending too much and borrowing what we didn't have. You don't fix that by spending even more and borrowing beyond a credit limit that we've ever, ever imagined ...

Q: Is the GOP -- or what's left of it in Congress -- doing the right thing in bucking Obama's stimulus package?

A: Absolutely. It's about time. They should have bucked the TARP plan, and they should have told the then-Republican president that he had lost his ever-loving mind proposing it. I was just sick to watch people who call themselves conservatives wring their hands and line up and say, "Well, we don't want to do this but we have to." And I thought, "No, you don't have to do that. If it's stupid, don't do it" -- and that was stupid.

Q: Has the GOP defended itself well from criticism that it wasn't being "bipartisan?"

A: I think people forget that bipartisanship is really the burden of the victor, not the loser. The loser doesn't get to just walk in and dictate the terms. So, if Obama wants bipartisanship, that means he doesn't throw a bill down on the table already written by Nancy Pelosi and basically put a gun to their heads and tell them, "Here's an offer you can't refuse."

Q: Despite you being a reasonably successful two-term governor, the Republican Party bosses didn't seem to like you, or seem to appreciate your entrance onto the stage for the primaries. Why?

A: Part of it was that I had the audacity to suggest that there was a Washington-to-Wall Street axis of power that was ruining the party. Now, what I was excoriated for proves out to be that I was prophetic.

Q: In a line or two, what kind of a Republican are you?

A: I would describe myself as a "total conservative, a conscientious one." And that I believe that one doesn't separate the fiscal and social issues because they are tied together.

Q: Were you at all punished by conservative Republicans for being too soft on social issues, in the sense that you were too willing to use government to address social issues?

A: I never wanted government to be the first line of defense. In fact, I think really what I got punished for was not having enough money to defend myself against the attacks of the people who had enough money to frame me in a way that was totally inaccurate. Once people started doing their own research and homework, I don't think they ever came to those conclusions.

Q: Do you plan to run for president again?

A: The honest answer is I don't know. I really don't.

Q: If you did run again, would you stress anything different or would you shift or even change any of your positions?

A: I wouldn't change any positions because those are convictions. That's one of the problems I have with people who take a poll to find out what they believe this week. I think one of the reasons that I got as far as I did was because people knew that what I was saying was consistent with what I had always said and what I had always done.

Q: Your TV show is doing pretty well. You're on Fox with all those "crazy right-wingers." Do you enjoy entertainment enough to give up politics?

A: Well, right now I am just grateful that I have a job. I'm doing that [weekly show] and then every day I am doing twice-daily commentaries on the ABC Radio Networks. It's a terrific platform and I'm enjoying it immensely and I certainly could be content doing that for a long time to come. ... But I don't know. It's just too far to predict what it's going to look like in a couple of years.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com.