As the Washington Post reported here, Huckabee called a press conference in Iowa to unveil an attack ad against Mitt Romney. The ad criticized Romney's honesty in stark terms.
Before going any further, let me say that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Huckabee publicly hitting Romney about his flip flops. This was not an attack on Romney's religion, his lifestyle, or his family. It was in no way a personal condemnation.
Romney spent his political career in Massachussetts running as a moderate pro-business Republican who was liberal on social issues. Both in his Senate race against Ted Kennedy and his later run for governor he supported abortion rights and gay rights. He even attempted to run to the left of Kennedy in 1994 on support for equal treatment of gays.
He began to tack right only in 2005 when his presidential aspirations became well known. At that time he also vetoed a bill to legalize the morning after pill in Massachussetts. What he did angered voters there. In fact, it was also pulling a switch and bait on those who voted for him in the gubernatorial election based on the view that he was a pro-choice moderate.
If he did that to voters in his home state, it's fair to ask if those he now courts can trust him. He needs the social conservatives to get the Republican nomination. But what would happen if, in the general election, he discovers that some of his newly found conservative values are less popular and are a drag on his ambitions. Does he jettison them yet again?
Voters who care about abortion, gay rights, and stem cell research on both sides of those issues do deserve to know that Mitt Romney has flipped flopped on this.
But what makes Mike Huckabee's campaign tactic so reprehensible is its pure dishonesty. Of course he wants to make the point that Romney can't be trusted. If he didn't, he simply would have decided quietly not to run the already prepared ad. He'd have killed it and not said anything.
Instead he's trying to have it both ways. In fact, here's what Washington Post reporters Michael Shear and Perry Bacon reported:
"I pulled the ad. I do not want it to be run at all," he said. But within minutes, the ad was being played on national television and had been posted on blogs and other Web sites -- without costing his campaign a penny.
He wants to get out the message and evade responsibility for being the messenger. He didn't approve the message but he sure wants the public to know 1) what the message is; and 2) he took the high road and didn't spread it.
Of course, the press wasn't buying it as they made clear in their coverage of the press conference. And neither should you buy it.
Most values voters know that honesty is a value too.