It’s been said that when in Rome, one must do as the Romans do. With that candor and apprehension in mind, I walked into the auditorium of Trinity Music City in Hendersonville, TN — the former city of gospel singer legend Johnny Cash — to see a live recording of Huckabee.
Mike Huckabee remains a strange remnant of a rather out-of-date vanguard of conservatism, sparsely remembered well nor happily. He’s neither sycophantic enough to survive in the post-Trump Republican Party but also too culturally conservative to appeal to centrists. He’s too conservative to heel turn and join the Jennifer Rubins or Bill Kristol’s of the world and reject populism. He’s a vanguard of the religious right, the realm of fundamentalist Christian thought that has given way to post-liberals Catholic integralists and Trumpist populists among the New Right. He’s both too radical and not radical enough, in all the wrong ways, to appeal to the current right-wing.
Huckabee himself has a background as a pastor. He served as the governor of Arkansas from 1996 to 2007 and ran for president twice in 2008 and 2016. He is also the father of Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, President Trump’s White House press secretary. He’s mostly irrelevant as a political force in 2022 but still regularly makes the rounds in the media to advocate for Trump or other Republican leaders. His show seems to be his primary project at the moment, broadcasting weekly online segments and for the TBN Network.
In a world of David Frenches, Sohrab Amaris, and Curtis Yarvins, the Mike Huckabees of the world exist to lose arguments that President Bush lost 14 years ago — or at the very least, to chase outdated trends and lick President Trump’s boots, for better or worse.
That doesn’t stop people from showing up to his live recordings though (although the free price probably doesn’t hurt). I probably wouldn’t have bothered if I had to pay for admission I’m not a fan of Mike Huckabee. I didn’t vote for him in 2008 (as I was a zygote) and neither did again in 2016. I was a Cruz-Con, wretched and abandoned by God. Me being merely a poor corrupt official though, I happily accepted the free ticket for a chance to get out of the house on a Friday night and be around other human beings.
The building itself is fascinating. Trinity Music City was the one-time home of the Country Music Network, the only television channel dedicated to country music videos, to my knowledge. It’s a piece of Nashville history on a par with the likes of The Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium, spaces where dozens of the greatest voices and musicians in American history shared space on stage. Retrofitted for Huckabee, the room definitely feels hollowed out and tacky. One senses that the building was likely not very expensive to purchase and renovate. The auditorium which once held hundreds of country music fans and great musical talents has been retrofitted to function with the same streamlined Late Night Comedy show feel but is entirely geared towards Christian Conservatives.
I am both a Christian and a Conservative but I am definitely not the audience for the Huckabee Show. The average age of the audience was geriatric and Huckabee’s attempts at Conan O’Brien-style one-liners came off as intermittently uncouth and boring – wife jokes and jokes about Pakistani accents. One might dare to call it offensive but anyone offended by jokes like this shouldn’t be walking around in broad daylight. The sun might burn you.
In any case, the show reflects its cultural background. The 90-minute recording went how one would expect it if you are familiar with live tv recordings. Shows like this are recorded on a tricaster with strict time limits and commercial breaks. This allows the TBN network to easily slot the segments between commercial breaks. The camera editing is done in real-time so the show stops frequently for breaks, which it uses as a chance to reset the camera positions, and jazz up the audience (I have some background in live audio and public access television and I can tell you it’s a stressful and delicately timed procedure).
Huckabee himself showed up on stage to speak to the audience before the recording to explain the show and he looked completely different than the last time I saw footage of him during the 2016 election. He had grown a George Carlin beard/mustache and it was strange and bizarrely offputting hearing his voice coming out of that face.
The content of the show was about as timely as one might expect. He interviewed the likes of John Ashcroft’s son, a recent American IDOL winner, and a magician (really). Colonel Allen West was given a segment to discuss getting chased off of a college campus after trying to perform a speech. Most of the commentary was mid-tier conservative rhetoric about “Elon Musk saving free speech” or “America needs to put Jesus back in education”.
Unfortunately, the event didn’t end up being without controversy. Huckabee advocated on the show, and subsequently on Twitter, for Musk to abolish Twitter anonymity, a pitch that Musk himself responded to and rejected. It was an asinine take from someone otherwise interested in the preservation of free speech, emblematic of just how deeply out of touch he is with the needs and necessities of the internet. Anonymity protects dissidents, within and without the country. It protects people who can’t speak out against their authorities without government or civil backlash and gives people a chance to speak their minds. We wouldn’t have HALF the blindingly horrific and revealing videos coming out of oppressive states like China and Russia at the moment without anonymity.
I won’t say the experience wasn’t entertaining. The highlight of the night though for me didn’t have anything to do with the show itself. Halfway through the show one of the producers started to throw merchandise at the audience. An elderly man right next to me reached out to catch a Huckabee name-brand stress ball flying across the room. He leaned back too far. In a scene reminiscent of Maude Flanders being hit by the T-Shirt cannon in The Simpsons, the man took a massive dive and fell back into the back row. I might’ve been concerned but he got the ball and didn’t stop laughing throughout the experience. No serious damage thankfully!
Huckabee himself offered to take photos with all of the guests in the audience and set up a line at the end of the show for anyone attending to speak with him briefly, shake his hand and take a photo with him, which I took him up on for my own personal amusement. I wasn’t sure if that was a mark of humility or not to take that much time to personally greet all of his fans. Anyone who works in politics has an ego and anyone who uses their political clout to astroturf their own late-night show is likely living out some form of wish fulfillment. Still, most late-night hosts wouldn’t bother to go near their guests for fear of accidentally touching the unwashed masses. Make of that what you will.
Colonel West also took photos as well so I was delighted to take a photo with him! West remains one of the classiest and most humble voices on the American Right in modern politics and it was an honor to speak to him briefly and see him live!
I also appreciated the vibe of the show, at the very least. There’s something conciliatory about a huge group of southern religious Trump supporters when they’re in a room together. Despite the reputation of white southerners as vile, white supremacist, anti-intellectual peasants from flyover states that are holding back the progress of mankind, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences with them. I recall once stopping off the side of the road in Hebron, IL where a southerner was selling a van full of Trump merchandise. He talked me up for 15 minutes about his life before giving me a free Betsy Ross flag bumper sticker.
Southern hospitality is alive and well!
There’s a level of commonality and friendly, down-home, common-sense to a room full of people in Trump hats, even if there’s not enough brainpower to turn on a lightbulb. Most of the people in the crowd for Huckabee were between the ages of 50 and 80, from what I could tell. Dozens of them wore military caps and yelled “Ooo-Rah!” when the producers started asking who had served in the military. They all shout and cheer whenever someone mentioned Jesus or Reagan. The man sitting next to me started chatting me up and told me he and his wife had driven down all the way from Pennsylvania to see the show, and he wasn’t alone. Half the audience or more was apparently from out of state. One of them even said he bought this trip for his wife for “part” of her anniversary gift.
These boomers WANTED to be here and they were having the time of their lives. It was almost wholesome!
Even if the experience as a whole felt rather tacky — seeing a space this grand and filled with history hollowed out into a talk show for a failed presidential candidate — the vibe of the experience was still enjoyable. It was like riding along in a truck with a thousand tacky Pro-Trump bumper stickers on the back and carrying a massive American flag strapped to the back that’s large enough to knock low-flying aircraft out of the sky, but the driver is really friendly and wants to tell you his war stories.
I can’t recommend that experience enough, for free!