Is Mike Huckabee Playing The Mormon Card? (And Is It OK To Play The Mormon Card?)

Take another look at his newest television advertisement.

On first watching, the assumption is that Huckabee is drawing a bright line between himself as a candidate of faith and the titular national frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani, as a candidate who lacks that bearing.

That may be too broad a reading. In Iowa, of course, Giuliani is nowhere and Mitt Romney, he of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is everywhere.

Now read this:

You know, I just don't think that's an appropriate issue for me to get into, the nuances of the Mormon faith. And it is not the sole criteria by which I think a person should be judged fit or unfit for the presidency, any more than I think people ought to necessarily make it the defining issue for me. I am very comfortable answering questions about my faith. I am probably the only candidate that has been subjected to this sort of detailed questioning about faith. I don't think Romney has even been. And my faith is a pretty mainstream view of the world and of the Bible. But I accept that as part of the whole process. I just think all of us should be prepared to answer questions regardless of what our views are, and let people sort that out. But that's why I don't feel comfortable in saying, 'Let me tell you what this guy believes.' You know what? I don't know what he believes. Even if I knew what his church believes, I don't know that I can say what he believes until he expresses it

What Gov. Huckabee is telling Salon's Michael Scherer is that Romney's religion can be a criteria by which people judge him, and that he believes that Romney ought to be subjected to questions about the content of his religious faith -- questions that Huckabee asserts have not been asked before.

Now watch the ad a third time.

A stout defense of Huckabee would point out that, with the media so obsessed about Romney's religion, any mention of Huckabee of his own faith -- a faith which, by all accounts, is central to his politics and morality -- would be illegitimate. Clearly, Huckabee has every right to try to win over voters on account of his evangelical background. In doing so, he challenges the consensus view that certain attributes, like religion, ought not matter. Of course, Huckabee is saying, they matter, and to pretend otherwise is foolish.

Is Huckabee playing the Mormon card, even unwittingly? Hard to say. His campaign says absolutely not. And intent matters, of course. But this being a postmodern political world, so does reception: it depends on the extent to which the targets of his television ad are aware that Romney is Mormon and are prone to object to it.