I've always had a soft spot for Mike Huckabee. Ever since he devoted a segment of his Fox News show to performing alongside his pal Ted Nugent in a rendition of “Cat Scratch Fever” — a song that euphemistically employs a synonym for cat that can't be printed (in that context) in this newspaper — I've found his contradictions almost endearing. As a loyal son of the Bible Belt, he worships God, traditional family values and all manner of firearms. As a baby boomer of good standing, he worships rock 'n' roll.
And we're not talking Christian rock. A committed guitar and bass player since childhood, Huckabee prefers the hard stuff. He loves the Rolling Stones and the stoner metal band Torche. His own band, Capitol Offense, covers artists like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Grand Funk Railroad.
“In the course of playing, we offend just about everybody,” the former Arkansas governor has said when explaining the band's name. It's the kind of joke — Southern humility with a hint of “Spinal Tap's” Nigel Tufnel — that makes people like me like him even if we'd never vote for him.
His television show, which he left this month in order to explore a presidential run, was framed around politics and current events, but Huckabee was also known for hosting — and jamming with — his rock 'n' roll heroes. A few months before the Nugent session, he sat in with Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen on the strip-club standard “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” which he introduced with a completely straight face.
True to his paradoxical nature, Huckabee's new book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” whose formal publication date was Tuesday, offers something for everyone. Huckabee smoothly shifts between assertions like “the claim that same-sex marriage is destroying society is actually greatly overstated” and “the science [of sexual orientation] is not settled!”
But somehow in the lead-up to the book's publication, those nuggets took a back seat to Huckabee's apparently much sought-after views on Beyoncé. In his book, while blasting the Obamas for letting their daughters listen to offensive song lyrics, Huckabee all but attempts to swoop in and rescue Queen Bey from the clutches of her husband, Jay Z, a man he accuses of “arguably crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object” during the couple's famously risque performance at the 2013 Grammy Awards.
After the requisite blowback from the griperati, Huckabee tried to explain himself. It's not that he doesn't like Beyoncé. She is, he writes in the book, “incredibly talented” and “gifted.” “She has an exceptional set of pipes and can actually sing. She's a terrific dancer.... She just doesn't need to lower herself to this crude exploitation to be a megastar.”
OK, we get it. Huckabee would feel better about being a Beyoncé fan if she buttoned up her act a bit. Barring that, it would be totally awesome if he could be her bass player.
And that's why he shouldn't run for president. Not because he'll never win (a recent poll showed that Huckabee's likability doesn't overcome his alignment with the far right for most voters), but because he doesn't want to be president as much as he wants to be a rock star.
It makes perfect sense. First he was a Baptist pastor, which in some places is about as close to rock star as you can get without a guitar. Then he began running for public office, a venture that comes with more than its share of rock 'n' roll trappings — tour buses, crowded arenas, late nights and laryngitis. (Hey, there's a book title for you.)
After all those years in the political trenches, Huckabee may think he wants to be president, and he's willing to risk alienating his base by suggesting that gay marriage is not society's No. 1 scourge. But all you have to do is watch the video of Huckabee beaming ear to ear while Nugent growls out lines about “some kitty next door” to see that this is a man for whom the struggle to be “in the world but not of it” is particularly intense.
And it's better to wage that struggle on the stage — or in the television studio or even from the pulpit — than in the Oval Office.
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