LITTLE ROCK — Conservative groups like the Club for Growth are hurting the Republican Party by funding and recruiting candidates for GOP primaries when they should be focusing on defeating Democrats, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Friday.
"My hope and prayer is that more mainstream Republicans would push back hard against the groups like Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, and even Heritage Action," Huckabee said in a talk to the Political Animals Club in Little Rock.
Huckabee told reporters later he was not arguing against the Club for Growth’s support of U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is challenging U.S. Sen Mark Pryor’s re-election bid. He said he was not against the groups spending on candidates like Cotton who have no primary opponent.
"That’s great. That’s what I wish they would spend all their money doing, and then help in the general election," he said. "That’s a great, legitimate use of Republican money. But to go out and beat up other Republicans and wound them, I just don’t see the value of that."
Huckabee said he will support Cotton in his bid to unseat Pryor, a two-term Democrat. He said he does not plan to endorse any candidate in the GOP primary for governor.
Huckabee, now a national television and radio personality and a Florida resident, served 10 years as Arkansas governor and ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He has drawn the ire of Club for Growth in the past for what the group viewed as being too moderate as governor.
Barney Keller, spokesman for the Club for Growth, said Friday that Huckabee is still angry with the club for its criticisms of him. He also noted that the group supported Cotton in his 2012 primary race with Beth Anne Rankin, a former Huckabee aide whom Huckabee endorsed.
"Mike Huckabee has thinner skin on him than most grapes," Keller said.
During his talk Friday, Huckabee also sized up the recent political standoff and partial government shutdown in Washington as a "train wreck." He said Washington political leaders should take a lesson from Mick Jagger, who sang that "You can’t always get what you want."
The 16-day shutdown resulted when some Republicans in Congress insisted on repealing or defunding the federal Affordable Care Act as a condition of any budget agreement, a demand at which Democrats balked.
"I governed the entire time with both houses of the Legislature clearly, firmly on the other side of the partisan aisle, and I understood that I would never get everything I wanted," Huckabee told the Political Animals club. "But I understood that the way to get some of the things I wanted was to make sure that they got some of the things they wanted."
Huckabee found fault with President Obama as well as Congress, noting that Obama has rarely met with Republican congressional leaders.
Responding to a question from the audience about the Common Core State Standards Initiative, Huckabee said the initiative is "probably on its way down the drain" because of political opposition, which he said is unfortunate because the goal of setting common academic standards is a good one.
"If you don’t have a Common Core, call it whatever you want to, but don’t cheat the kids of this country by having standards that are so low in some areas that a kid doesn’t have the chance to have a successful education," he said.
Huckabee has been sharply critical of technical glitches surrounding the debut this month of the federal online health insurance marketplace. He was asked after his talk Friday if that criticism was fair, given the problems that accompanied the debut of the Arkansas Administrative Statewide Information System, or AASIS, when Huckabee was governor in 2001.
"AASIS actually worked," he said. "We had some, what really were just glitches. A lot of our issues with AASIS were that we failed to certify the training process for state workers. It was a massive overhaul. But there was no function of the state government that just shut down. … And you know, it created a level of transparency and efficiency that we had never had before."
Problems that arose after AASIS’ debut included delays in state employees receiving paychecks, delays in state vendors getting paid and erroneous reports of negative fund balances in state agencies.
Asked how seriously he is considering running for president in 2016, Huckabee said, "It’s not something I’m laying awake at night (thinking about). It’s obviously a process I’m still young enough and capable enough to consider."