George Stephanopoulos' Interview with Former Gov. Mike Huckabee

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we are back now with the Republicans beginning with the big winner this week in Iowa, Mike Huckabee. Welcome back to "This Week," Governor.

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, George. Good to be with you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's pick up on the debate last night. Charlie Gibson asked you about the foreign affairs article where you wrote the Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad. In your answer you didn't repeat that and your opponents pounced. Take a look.

THOMPSON (from debate): I think that maybe the governor's rethought his comments that he made about an arrogant foreign policy.

ROMNEY (from debate): The president is not arrogant. The president is not subject to a bunker mentality.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So do you believe what you wrote or not? Has the Bush?

HUCKABEE: Of course I believe what I wrote. That's why I wrote it and let me correct what Mr. Romney said. I did not say the president was arrogant. I said some of the administration's policies?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Wait. You said the Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality.

HUCKABEE: Policies.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's pretty much the same thing.

HUCKABEE: No, it's not. What I specifically pointed out last night was that when Donald Rumsfeld said we weren't going into Iraq with more than 180,000 troops even though every department of defense estimate said we needed at least 400,000 to bring stability, we had the attitude that we're not going to really listen to what the generals are telling us we need to do. We're going to have this arbitrary figure based on a finite budget. We're going to have as the secretary called it a light footprint, which is really the complete opposite of the Powell Doctrine, and it really goes back, I would say, to the Weinberger Doctrine of the Reagan administration that says you don't go in with a light footprint, you go in with a very heavy footprint. You go in with irresistible force when you engage and that when you engage you don't let the politicians interrupt and interfere with a battlefield command decisions that are being made by the people who have blood on their boots?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, but your indictment of the Bush administration foreign policy was much broader than that. And the last time you were on "This Week," you said they had an us versus them mentality. I'm just trying to say do you still believe that or are you backing away?

HUCKABEE: No, I'm not backing away. I've been more supportive of George Bush than several of the people who criticized me on that program, but what I have also said is that, look, if you're running for president, you need to not only say, here's where I agree, and there are many areas with which I agree with the president, I've stood by him when others abandoned him, but I also think that if you're running for president, you need to distinguish yourself in what will you do and how will your administration be reflected in policy, both domestically and in foreign policy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You also - you and Mitt Romney went at it on the surge as well. Here's what you said last night.

HUCKABEE (from debate): I supported the president in the war before you did. I supported the surge when you didn't.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But last January when you were asked on another program whether you agreed with Mitt Romney and John McCain on support of the surge, you said this.

HUCKABEE (on tape): Well, I'm not sure that I support the troop surge if that surge has to come from our guard and reserve troops which have really been overly stretched.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a pretty clear contradiction.

HUCKABEE: What I said was that the surge I supported but the concern that I had was as the commander in chief of the National Guard?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you didn't say support of the surge. You said I'm not sure that I support the surge.

HUCKABEE: Well, George, I've said many times I supported the surge but remember what I said, specifically guard and reserve troops. As commander in chief of the Arkansas National Guard, we saw 90% of our troops go to Iraq. We saw them go not once but repeated deployments. One of the groups, the 39th Brigade, came back, got back in May and in September had to deploy to the Gulf Coast for Katrina for five months. Now they're being called back. My concern is this, we have a very delicate situation developing with our guard and reserve troops. We have spread them thinner and taken a teaspoon of peanut butter?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they were needed for the surge.

HUCKABEE?and putting it on a loaf of bread. They were needed for the surge and what we really need to be doing is building up the regular army. Building up the total troop strength in all of our military resources because if we're going to engage in long-term conflicts, you cannot do that with those who really signed up to be citizen soldiers.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But do you retract your statement from last night because according to this evidence, you did not support the surge before Mitt Romney.

HUCKABEE: No, I don't retract because I did support the surge. Separate the surge from the fact that I said that we need to have a different approach when it comes?

STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know how you can have it both ways on that, governor. The surge did require the guard and reserve troops to be used so you either support it or you don't.

HUCKABEE: And I did support it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that's not what you said on January 24.

HUCKABEE: Well, what I was speaking to was the specific overuse of guard and reserves over a long period of time, and I do stand by that, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's look at the broader issue because the Associated Press wrote about this yesterday. The headline said, Huckabee's gaffes could undermine straight shooter image. "HUCKABEE GAFFES COULD UNDERMINE STRAIGHT-SHOOTER IMAGE."

STEPHANOPOULOS: And went on to say "Republican Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses by campaigning as an honest conservative, yet he has made a series of blunders that raise questions about his credibility."

STEPHANOPOULOS: They went on to talk about the fact that you say you supported the Writers Guild strike yet went on "Jay Leno." You say you're opposed to gambling, you do a fundraiser in Iowa at a casino.

HUCKABEE: Oh, come on. I can't believe that people are going to say if I go to an event that is?

STEPHANOPOULOS: At a casino when you're opposed to legalized gambling.

HUCKABEE: It was closed for the day at a place called Fun City. I don't know if it was the casino part. That's like saying you can't stay at a hotel that may have a mini bar in the room if you don't drink. I'm not a drinker.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, a lot of people don't do events at hotels if they don't use union labor if they support unions.

HUCKABEE: Well, people are going to go through a nitpick. And that's fine but I'll tell you why we won Iowa. We won Iowa because people believe that there was a need for somebody who had clarity in his positions and I have and I've stuck by those positions. I haven't had big changes in positions on my view in the second amendment, on the sanctity of life, on the role of the traditional family, on the idea of the Bush tax cuts. I haven't had a big change of position when it comes to energy independence, on health care. Those are issues that touch Americans every day. And, you know, there's always going to be somebody that says, oh, he made this statement here and he, you know, had a verbal gaffe. Look, I have some verbal gaffes. I think most of us do especially if we talk as much as politicians do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Or television anchors. But let me push one more issue on clarity?


STEPHANOPOULOS: ?positions because the Terri Schiavo case, it seems as if you've been on both sides of that issue. Let me show you.


STEPHANOPOULOS: On May 19 of this year, you said "I had no problem with the state getting involved because it's one of their citizens but I wasn't sure how the federal government had a role in all that." Yet, in September of this year you were asked should the federal government should have gotten involved, and you said "it's always safe if you can to side on the side of life."

STEPHANOPOULOS: Was it right for Congress to get involved or not?

HUCKABEE: The statement I made was the right one and that is if you're going to do something, always side on the side of life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So that means the federal government should have gotten involved?

HUCKABEE: Now, from a legal and a constitutional perspective I'm not sure that this was anything other than a Florida issue. But if the federal government is going to weigh in, weigh in on the side of life. I think?

STEPHANOPOULOS: But should the federal government have weighed in or not?

HUCKABEE: They shouldn't have to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a clear yes or no question.

HUCKABEE: No. I'll tell you where they should weigh in. They ought?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well they did. Was it a right thing to do or not?

HUCKABEE: In that case I believe it ultimately was because anything to do that will help save a human life and at least show the importance of the imperative of valuing life, I think is a good thing, George. And I'm - one thing, if anything, and that's consistent on the fact that every human life has dignity and intrinsic worth and value, and I think it's fundamental to the very essence of our civilization that we treat each other with that sense of dignity. If we don't and violate the idea we're all of equal worth, I think we've lost something more than a political debate. I think we've lost our moral center. Because if one person is more valuable because of IQ, ancestry, net worth, if one person is more valuable than another because of ability or disability, then we really have redefined what it means to be not just a human being but specifically what it means to be an American.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had a big win in Iowa this week. The question is, where do you win next? You're fighting from behind here in New Hampshire. What's the path to the nomination for Mike Huckabee?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think we're going to do better than expected in New Hampshire. I think when we get to?

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does that mean?

HUCKABEE: Well, where do you expect me to be? Most didn't expect me to even be in the race. Nobody expected me to win Iowa.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You're in fourth place right now in the polls.

HUCKABEE: Well, so if I'm in third, that'll be better than expected. There you go. There's my prediction.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And then where is your next win?

HUCKABEE: South Carolina. I think we're going to win South Carolina. We're leading substantially in the polls. I think we'll win in Florida. And I'll tell you what's happening, our campaign is not about, gee, we have as much money as anybody -- but we've got people who have heart and who are working harder than I could ever pay them, and the reason that that's happening is because people want to see a significant difference in not just the Republican Party but in this country. And that's what is beginning to I think confound people who live in the bubble of Washington, no offense, but I think sometimes you guys just don't get it, how it really works out here when people sit around their dinner table, they aren't talking about the same things you guys are talking about. They know that $3 a gallon gasoline touches their life. They know that the cost of health care is touching their lives and making their decisions different than they were a year ago and if we, particularly Republicans, don't start talking to the American people in honest terms about need for energy independence, about touching issues such as how to really reform the health care system, dealing with the fact that we have middle class Americans who are working harder this year than they worked last year, and they're not getting ahead, we're not just going to be a minority party, we're going to be an extinct party in another generation or so.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well we are going to be listening and watching. Governor Huckabee, thanks very much.

HUCKABEE: Thanks, George. Great always to be with you.