Like another Arkansas governor who made it big, Mike Huckabee comes from the tiny town, Hope, Ark. Time magazine named him one of America's five best governors and Huckabee is banking on that experience and his eclectic background to get elected to the White House in 2008. He's a southern Baptist preacher, who plays bass in a rock band; a fried food addict, who lost more than 100 pounds and a solid social conservative, who targeted tax increases to health care, highways and schools.
Huckabee calls himself a "paradoxical Republican." The following is a transcript of his interview with "This Week's" George Stephanopoulos in Nashua, N.H.
Stephanopoulos began by asking Huckabee what "paradoxical Republican" means.
Huckabee: It means that I take sides of issues that I think people don't expect Republicans necessarily to join up with.
For example, one of my real passions is music and art in the curriculum of students. And when I talk about that and talk about it with the kind of passion that I do, people say, "Are you a Republican?" as if Republicans don't like music.
There's such a value in developing both the left and right sides of the brain. And yet there's this perception that Republicans sort of stay away from the arts.
Well, I want to prove them to be wrong.
Stephanopoulos: What's your favorite song?
Huckabee: Oh, don't ask that because then you start getting me into stuff, which artist. It's going to most likely be a Mellencamp or Rolling Stones or Beatles song. Maybe Creedence. But can you tell, it's got to be heavy guitar music in there?
Stephanopoulos: Heavy guitar, but you're not going to choose your real politician.Here's what your critics say, though.
Stephanopoulos: They say you're not paradoxical...
Huckabee: You mean I have some?
Stephanopoulos: A few, a few.
Stephanopoulos: They say you're heretical. They look at your record in Arkansas and say: Gas taxes went up.
Stephanopoulos: Cigarette taxes went up. The sales tax went up. Spending skyrocketed during your two plus terms as governor.
Huckabee: We cut 90 taxes during the time I was governor. We eliminated the marriage penalty. We doubled the child care tax credit.
We incomed -- indexed the income tax for inflation so that people wouldn't be caught in tax brackets they shouldn't be paying. We lifted the threshold over which people pay taxes -- the first broad-based tax cut in the history. We cut capital gains tax.
Stephanopoulos: But you did raise those other taxes.
Huckabee: Well, here's what we did. On the gas tax, yes. You know what we did? We put it on the ballot. And 80 percent of the people of Arkansas voted for those fuel taxes because they wanted better roads. I wanted better roads. I have no apology for building better roads in the state, creating 40,000 jobs in the process of doing it, and taking our roads from what Truckers magazine said were the worst in the country to the most improved in the country. That's economic development.
Stephanopoulos: So taxes aren't always the root of all evil?
Huckabee: Well, you know, when people say we shouldn't have any taxes, you know what? When you dial 911 and your house is on fire, you want a fire truck to come. Guess what pays for it? Taxes. What Americans don't want is unfair, unnecessary, exceptionally high taxes where the money is wasted. But Americans understand that, if you have the garbage pickup, or the fire trucks and police cars out there, or for that matter if you have a highway, then it's got to be paid for.
Stephanopoulos: So how does that extend, then, to the job you'll have to do as president? You know, a lot of your opponents in this race are signing this pledge -- the Americans for Tax Reform taxpayer protection pledge -- basically saying we're going to oppose any effort to increase the income tax.
You haven't signed it. Do you think it's a gimmick?
Huckabee: It's not necessarily a gimmick, and I may decide I will sign it.
But, right now, what I want to make sure is that I don't assign something that says that if we had a catastrophic incident, a world war, which I think we're in the middle of or at least in the beginnings of already, I don't want to put myself in a box and make a pledge to an interest group that isn't really as sacred as the pledge that I would make to the people of the country to uphold the Constitution. Stephanopoulos: You talk about the fact that you believe we're in World War III right now...
Huckabee: I do.
Stephanopoulos: ... in your speech earlier.
[Clip of Huckabee: We do have a war -- a world war that is on fire and we have to recognize that the next president must face that and must face it clearly and must understand its theological base.]
How do you fight a worldwide religious war without turning it into a 21st century crusade?
Huckabee: I think you have to be very careful that we don't think that our goal is to take our religion and impose it on somebody else.
That's not what this war is about. But we have to understand it from the point of the Islamic fascists who really would like to annihilate us.
I think you have to take seriously that this is, at heart, an effort where they believe that God has put them on this planet so that they will bring a complete cleansing of all the infidels -- which they consider us to be.
And the only cleansing that can really be done is not to isolate us to our part of the world, but is to annihilate us.
That's why this is such a more dangerous situation.
Stephanopoulos: So how does the president combat that?
Huckabee: Well, I think part of it has to happen from that we don't combat it by ourselves. There's got to be a sense in which the balance of moderate Muslims will have to take a more visible and, frankly, vocal role in bringing a sense of balance and sanity within the Islamic community.
Stephanopoulos: But how do we encourage that?
Huckabee: We encourage it by the same way that we saw a lot of things happen that changed to Soviet Union -- when they realized we're not monsters, when they realized that we really aren't out to destroy them. There are many of the true Muslim people that don't want a world war. They don't want a war -- a war in a world where, every day, somebody has to just be vaporized.
We have to hope that that takes hold within those communities themselves.
Stephanopoulos: George Will says voters this year are going to hold candidates to what he calls the seven-minute test.
[Clip of George Will: "Nightmare scenario. You're the security advisor. You're awakened in the middle of the night. You have three minutes to get the details of an attack coming on the United States. Then the president, who you notify, has four minutes to answer. That's seven minutes. Which candidate fits the seven minute question?]
How can you convince voters that you're the candidate to pass that test? You've only served as governor of Arkansas.
Huckabee: I have. Ronald Reagan had been an actor and had been governor of California. Bill Clinton had only been governor of Arkansas. Democrats...
Stephanopoulos: This is the post-9/11 world where we're in World War III, by your admission.
Huckabee: It is, but it still is the same type of situation where what you really have in the case of a leader is not so much where he's been, but what his operating system is; what his judgment is. Does he handle crisis? Can he assimilate facts quickly and, then, can he communicate? And is he decisive?
These are qualities, I think, that come from being a governor.
Stephanopoulos: What is the closest you have you have ever come? What's the most difficult question you've ever had to handle that is even close to responding to an attack on the...
Huckabee: Well, I think there have been several that -- nothing is close, maybe, to world war, but when Katrina hit the Gulf shore, we had 75,000 evacuees that came to Arkansas. Our population increased 3 percent in five days.
We managed that in a way that most of the nation didn't know, but the ones who did marveled at it, because we didn't have the problems that many other states had in trying to assimilate all of these evacuees that came in suddenly, unexpectedly, and with nothing but -- literally -- the dirty, muddy clothes on their back.
And we did it by bringing all of our resources together, marshalling the troops of both the public and private sectors, and taking charge of a situation where it was clear the federal government was in complete meltdown.
Stephanopoulos: I have looked at everything you said. I'm actually having a hard time figuring out: Do you support the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq now or not?
Huckabee: Well, what I try and say, George, is I support that the president has the right to make these decisions as commander in chief.
We need to give him time to let it work.
Stephanopoulos: So if you were in the Senate, you'd vote for the plan?
Huckabee: I would give him a chance. You bet I would.
But here's what I would also do. I would caution the president:
Mr. President, you cannot continue to overstress these National Guard and Reserve troops. And that's what worries me.
If we have a worn-out Army and we have a worn-out Reserve force, what do we do when something breaks loose in Iran, Russia, Venezuela, North Korea?
Stephanopoulos: So, then, the question is: How much time do we have?
And you wrote in your book that we should set a timetable for the Iraqis. What would your timetable be?
Huckabee: Well, I was careful not to say there should be a specific timetable. In fact, I've said it's like a baseball game, not a football game. You can't put it on a specific clock.
Stephanopoulos: But you said you have to give the Iraqis a timetable for progress?
Huckabee: We have to tell them, look; we're not going to be here indefinitely. What we're going to expect of you is, you're going to have to get control of this sectarian violence, this civil war that is just ripping this whole thing apart. Because the American people are not going to stay indefinitely.
Now, when I say a timetable, I want to be very careful that you don't just say, OK, December 31, that's the last day; we start pulling out the helicopters and fly away.
Stephanopoulos: But you know, realistically, aren't we really on a timetable because of the political situation here at home?
I think about -- we're, what, 11 months or so away from the New Hampshire primary.
If the situation in Iraq doesn't improve by the time voters here go to the polls, won't they be clamoring for anti-war candidate?
Huckabee: It all depends on how things go over the next year. If things continue to go with the sectarian violence, and the Sunnis and the Shias are just at each and bawling (ph) each other up, I think we're in for a very, very rugged season.
And it's going to be tough, if somebody takes any position other than what, just, cut our losses and go.
Stephanopoulos: Let's talk about immigration. I was struck by something in USA Today this morning, a headline that says, "Immigration Becomes KKK Rallying Point." You've said that you believe that there is some racism behind the immigration debate today.
What did you mean by that?
Huckabee: Well, first of all, I didn't mean that everybody who has some anxiety about immigration is a racist.
And that was one of those things that suddenly blew up and people said, "Oh, he accused us all of being racists."
Absolutely not. There are a lot of people who are concerned. I'm concerned.
I'm concerned that our borders are porous and we're allowing people to come in and out without any real check as to who they are, where they're going, why they're here, do they have a communicable disease or a criminal background?
We need to know those things.
I'm not as worried about somebody who's coming across to pluck a chicken or pick a tomato or make a better Laquinta.
I'm particularly concerned about somebody who might cross this border with a shoulder-fired missile.
But even those people who are coming to pluck chickens and pick tomatoes, frankly, I want them to come in an orderly way. I want them to cross the border legally.
When I go to the Little Rock airport, I have to go through all kinds of hoops just to get on the airplane.
Now, they know who I am. They all call me by name, but I still show a photo I.D. I take my shoes off, I take my computer out and I put on a different little basket. I get my jacket off and the whole deal. I don't mind that because that's the way I'm supposed to get on the plane.
But I go through several layers of security and authenticate my personhood with the proper documentation.
I'm a taxpaying U.S. citizen. I'm a person who's been a public official, but I go through those layers...
Stephanopoulos: But you've also said we're going to be judged by how we treat the illegals who are here right now.
Huckabee: We shouldn't have amnesty where we just say, "Fine, everybody's good, we're going to let it go." We should have a process where people can pay the penalties, step up and accept responsibility for not being here legally.
But here's the point. The objective is not to be punitive. The objective is to make things right. Right for us. Right for them.
And what I have objected to in the past is when we are punishing the children for the laws that maybe their parents have broken.
I do have a problem with that.
Stephanopoulos: Governor Romney is considering saying that the children of illegal immigrants shouldn't automatically become citizens.
What do you think about that?
Huckabee: Maybe that should be looked at. I mean, if people are rushing across the border, illegally, delivering a baby and then saying, "Whew, now we're here."
I think that's a little disingenuous to the concept of really being a naturally-born U.S. citizen.
But it's not an issue that I have put a stake in the ground and said: This is how we ought to handle it.
Stephanopoulos: Let me ask you another question about Governor Romney. His religion, he's a Mormon, has become -- is going to become a big part of this campaign, clearly.
You're a Southern Baptist, a former Southern Baptist preacher. And that denomination teaches, I believe, that Mormonism is a cult.
How bit a hurdle is that going to be for Governor Romney in this campaign?
Huckabee: Well, you know, I'm not sure. And I don't know that anyone knows.
What I can tell you is about my faith and what it means. And I think people ought to look at every person who runs for office and they ought to ask them questions about who they are and what they are about and what drives their decisions.
I'm not as troubled by a person who has a different faith. I'm troubled by a person who tells me their faith doesn't influence their decisions. Because if a person says to me, "Here's my faith, but it doesn't influence me at all," what it says to me is: "My faith isn't very significant."
Stephanopoulos: How does it influence yours?
Huckabee: It totally drives it. It makes everything click for me.
And that will explain to you why I have a passion for life. But it means that my pro-life position doesn't end at the birth canal; that I believe that life is more than a gestation period. I believe life begins at conception; I just don't think it ends at birth.
And that's why, as a governor, I've fourth hard to see children have medical insurance and decent schools and safe neighborhoods and drinking water and affordable housing, because that's consistent with me being pro-life. I don't want to see some single mom, you know, worry and struggle that she's not going to be able to have food for her kids. I don't want some wife to have the daylights beaten out of her by some abusive husband and have nowhere to turn.
Those are things that are driven because of my faith. That's not a political position. It's a faith position.
Stephanopoulos: Mayor Giuliani said he hates abortion, but he's pro-choice.
Is that position a game-ender in the Republican primaries?
Huckabee: We'll find out in this election, it looks like, because it's going to be an issue that will clearly separate some of the candidates.
But I'm pro-life because I think it's consistent with who we are as an American people. We are a culture and a civilization that celebrates life. We cherish our children's lives. We grieve when they die.
I think it is the great contrast between us and, frankly, the Islamic fascists, who would strap a bomb to their own children's chest and march them into a room full of innocent people and blow them up and then be proud of their children's martyrdom, and think somehow that that's a great thing and it's going to give them a special place in heaven.
Stephanopoulos: You haven't been shy about taking on pop culture.
And I was just wondering, what did you think when you saw all these headlines this morning about Anna Nicole Smith?
Huckabee: Tragic story. Two tragedies: One is a life of a person who obviously struggled for significance and found it in, really, the realm of pop culture.
The other tragedy is that it, sort of, took everything else off the front pages and took all the oxygen out of the room.
Here we are in the midst of Iraq and immigration and all the issues that people face, with whether they're going to have a job at the end of the week and whether their pension's going to be eaten up by some time white-collar criminal who will rob the company of the money and leave people with nothing who have built the wealth. And what's everybody fascinated by? How Anna Nicole Smith died.
And it's a point of curiosity and I feel terrible for her family.
Her life story is one that's filled with tragedy.
But I'm not sure that it's the number one news story on the planet Earth today.
Stephanopoulos: You really became known on the national scene when you lost 110 pounds.
Stephanopoulos: It was some claim to fame. Right now, Barack Obama is trying to quit smoking. So what advice can you give him?
Huckabee: It's about the discipline and focus of saying, "This is good for me and it's also an example for others."
I've never smoked, so I don't understand the nicotine addiction. I know it's real. Too many people I've known who have been smokers said it's more difficult than anything they've ever dealt with.
But, boy, it's a deadly habit. And there's not a thing about it that is healthy, good, wholesome or that brings about any sense of value.
So it's something I hope that he will do, not just for himself and his family, he's got kids, so he needs to do it for them?
But it'd be a great thing to do for the country to say, "I kicked it, so can you." I hope he does.
Stephanopoulos: You said you had to learn to look at a plate of fried chicken and say, "That's a threat, not a pleasure."
Huckabee: Yes, and it sort of erased all the things I'd grown up with because when you grow up in the Deep South and you have food, kind of as your only major source of comfort, it's your security when you don't have many other points of security.
It's real difficult and you have to break away and mentally understand what it is that drives you to those comfort foods.
And once you realize it -- and that's really was for me, the breakthrough -- then, you can say: "You know what? I don't have to have that anymore. There are better ways to be secure."
Stephanopoulos: You probably know the Clinton's better than any other candidate in this race.
How do you assess her candidacy so far?
Huckabee: Republicans underestimate Hillary Clinton at their own peril. She's a brilliant woman, brilliant intellectually, and she's brilliant politically.
And I think, when I hear Republicans say, oh, I hope Hillary's the nominee, oh I hope Hillary's the nominee -- boy, will it just...
Stephanopoulos: I'll bet you don't. I've seen polls that show her beating you in Arkansas.
Huckabee: Oh, on any given day. I think I would win in Arkansas.
But you know something? I will tell you that Hillary Clinton will be a very strong candidate across America because she knows how to win. She's been through struggles. She has overcome many things. And she is absolutely a brilliant human being.
Again, I think people underestimate her. And I think, when they do, they're going to be sorry.
Stephanopoulos: You'd be the second president from Hope, Arkansas. What did you learn from the first?
Huckabee: When I talk to groups, particularly if it's Republican groups, I say something that really, I think, puts them on their heels sometimes.
I say, regardless of what you think about Bill Clinton, whether you liked him or not, whether you thought his policies were horrible or whether you thought his personal habits were terrible, just remember one thing, that here is a guy who came out of a small, impoverished southern state; in his case, came out of a dysfunctional family, had everything going against him, but he became president of the United States, not once but twice. You know what?
He is an affirmation of the American dream. Don't ever take that from a kid growing up in this country. Don't ever let it be lost on us that if a Bill Clinton, or for that matter, if a Mike Huckabee can become president, we're still a great country.
Stephanopoulos: And no one will ever forget Hope, Arkansas.
Huckabee: I hope not.
Stephanopoulos: Governor, thanks very much.
Huckabee: Thanks, George.