SALT LAKE CITY — Long before Mike Huckabee ran for office, starred on Fox News or rubbed elbows with the president, he dreamed of a career in Christian entertainment, longing to share his faith on the radio or TV.
He took a job at a local radio station at age 14, playing tunes and talking sports. He worked his way through high school and then college, squeezing in DJ shifts between homework assignments.
"Most people think that my first career was in ministry, but it actually was broadcasting," Huckabee said, speaking from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, where he spends most of his time.
From an early age, Huckabee felt God calling him to something more than church leadership, although he did serve as a pastor for the better part of 11 years. He rejects the view that formal ministry is holier than other vocations, pointing to the work politicians can do for the poor and underserved.
After his early media and ministry work, Huckabee transitioned to politics, serving as governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007 and then competed for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. After that unsuccessful campaign, he led a popular Fox News show, "Huckabee," which he left in early 2015 to pursue the White House once again.
Huckabee didn't win that race, but his failure brought him to a new, but familiar, opportunity. On Oct. 7, he'll relaunch "Huckabee" on the Christian-based Trinity Broadcasting Network — with an interview with President Donald Trump, no less.
"I've done a lot of things that I thought I would do in my career. Not everything worked out, but a lot of things did to an even greater degree than I thought possible," he said.
Huckabee, whose daughter is the White House's chief spokeswoman, spoke with the Deseret News this week about his new talk show, the proper relationship between faith and politics and how to restore unity in a divided nation. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A photo of Mike Huckabee. | Associated Press
Deseret News: Over the course of your career, we’ve seen the evangelical Christian community playing a bigger role in politics. Some have criticized this shift, while others, like yourself, have helped champion it. What do you view as the appropriate relationship between religion and politics?
Mike Huckabee: I think some people want to make it so that you can’t take your values system into the public square, whether as a candidate or officeholder. I find that bizarre.
If my values system is Christian, I better take it with me. It’s who I am.
I think there has been this very unfortunate misunderstanding that people of faith should somehow check that at the door. That they should take it off like it’s a heavy winter coat and leave it in the closet.
True faith, real authentic faith, really permeates your very essence. So you look at life through that lens.
Frankly, I think that’s what should shape our public policy. I’ll give you an example. If I truly believe in following Christ, then I should believe that I have a responsibility not just to the people who are my political donors. I’ve got responsibility to the least of these. If I don’t behave in that way, then I’m not much of a follower of Christ.
DN: But what about when we see religious leaders speaking about politics on TV, more often they address faith? Is that a good thing, or do churches need to be more careful about keeping the Bible as their primary concern?
MH: I think it’s a great thing. If you go back and look at the Bible, the prophets always spoke to the king, to the culture and to the military environment. They were voices of truth and righteousness, and their voices were important.
Only in recent times have we come to this notion that people in the church should just keep all of their conversations there and not venture outside. I just find that bizarre, because we don’t ask that of anyone else.
In this Jan. 28, 2016, photo, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee walks onto the stage before a Republican presidential primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa. | Charlie Neibergall, AP
You never hear someone say, 'This guy’s big thing is business, so we don’t ever want to hear him talk about business.' If you talk to Warren Buffett, you’re going to ask about investing, not which blizzard he prefers at Dairy Queen.
It’s that kind of thing that I find really inconsistent in the way society approaches faith. It often seems that you’re free to have an opinion on everything unless you approach it from your perspective as believer.
DN: Since President Donald Trump took office, we've seen evangelical leaders praying with him in the Oval Office. Are you excited for them or worried about the risks that come with being in the public eye?
MH: I’m thrilled that they’re there. I’m thrilled that the president has invited them there.
To me, it speaks volumes of him that he is willing to entertain them, to invite them to come and speak. He shows them a level of respect that many of them have never seen from a president before.
I’ve said many times that Donald Trump is not one of us, in terms of being part of the evangelical world. There’s no pretense about that.
He uses language that would be inappropriate for most of our churches, and he certainly has not lived a lifestyle that would make him churchman of the year.
But there’s a deep respect for him and the reason is that he shows respect for people of faith. And there’s another reason that I think the evangelical world overwhelmingly voted for him, although people are still scratching their heads about that. I think it’s because he’s authentic.
With Donald Trump, you know what you get. This is not a guy who is pretending to be your Sunday School teacher. He’s not sitting down saying, 'Oh. Let me speak the language of Zion.' He’s who he is.
I have said and written in the past that I’d much rather be around someone who uses profanity, blows cigar smoke in my face, sits there sipping a martini and tells coarse stories but is being very true to who he is, than someone who sits in front of me, pulls out a New Testament and tells me he loves God but goes back to four-letter words and puts the Bible away when I walk out of the room.
I’d rather have an authentic person who isn’t like me than a phony who pretends to be like me to impress me.
DN: When you or evangelical advisers meet with President Trump, do you feel called to evangelize to him in addition to discussing policy matters?
MH: I think we all do, and I know firsthand that many of the people he’s given access to, his spiritual advisers, are direct and bold and frank with the president.
They’re certainly respectful of him and his office, but they also don’t hold back. One of the things I think they find refreshing about Donald Trump is that he allows them to be as candid with him as he is with the world.
Now, they don’t necessarily approve of each tweet or statement he makes from the podium, but they approve of the fact that he is being who he is and not playing a role and then being phony about it.
Many of them will say, "I wish he hadn’t said that." But, by golly, at least we know where he stands.
DN: You're going to interview Trump for the first episode of your new show. What can you share about that conversation?
MH: I think it’s going to be a different kind of interview than maybe people are used to seeing with the president because I know him on a personal level.
I don’t see him as an adversary. I’m not in the same mold as a lot of the journalists who would go in and try to trip him up. That's not my goal.
I want to draw out of him not the what of his policies, but the why. That’s what I’m going to be going for.
Mike Huckabee's talk show on Trinity Broadcasting Network premiers on Oct. 7. | Trinity Broadcasting Network
DN: You've said in earlier interviews that you want to use your show to talk about whether proposed policies are good or bad and find meaning in tough situations instead of just hosting people for an on-air argument. How do you bring that approach to current affairs, like the NFL protests?
MH: I would go to the heart of it. What is it these guys are protesting?
If we really dive into it, it started with a single football player, Colin Kaepernick, who said that the police were pigs and they were brutal and they were violating the civil rights of African-Americans.
So when I see the entire Dallas Cowboys football team get on their knees, I’m asking, 'Do you agree with Colin Kaepernick that the cops are terrible people?' I need to know that, and I want to know that.
I don’t think most of those guys know why they’re taking a knee. I think if you put a microphone in front of their face, they wouldn’t know what to say.
If you’re protesting the police, picket the police station. If you’re protesting Donald Trump — and I think a lot of the players are mad at him — picket the White House. That's the appropriate place.
The national anthem and the flag of this country should be held with some sacred regard. Americans, regardless of their political ideology, should stand at attention, put their hand over their heart, pay respect and not politicize that aspect of who we are as a country.
I guess we politicize everything, but I just find this morally offensive. People are making the national anthem and the flag a point of divisiveness, when it should be the opposite.
It’s the wrong venue, it’s the wrong time and it’s being left to the wrong people. You go to a football game to be entertained by the sport. You don’t go because you want to be preached to by a multimillionaire who thinks he's going to lecture me on how oppressed he is when he’s making more than most people will ever see in a lifetime.
The hypocrisy and the glaring duplicity of that I find off-putting, to say the least.
DN: You mentioned that Americans are politicizing everything these days. Is your show going to try to bring people together?
MH: I think people are going to see that this show is not going to be a typical political ping pong approach to issues, where you have someone on the left and someone on the right spouting out very predictable talking points.
What I want to do is to talk about how issues affect the average American. Whether we’re talking about health care or the opioid crisis, I don’t want to get into an ideological argument. I want to look for solutions. If someone from the left has a great point of view, let's embrace that.
I don’t think Republicans are right all the time, and I don’t think Democrats are wrong all the time, although I may think they’re wrong most of the time. It's absurd to think the only point of view that’s worth hearing is our own.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @kelsey_dallas