When I interviewed Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and researched his background as part of a long feature story I wrote for the April edition of the American Spectator, one of the things that became apparent was that it was very hard to get him to say a bad word about anybody, and that at least among Republicans, it was hard to get anybody to say a bad word about him.
Should he indeed run for president, his tendency to avoid condemning others will help and hurt him.
Over the past year, Barbour has come under fire a number of times due to his unwillingness to criticize others. He dismissed the significance of the attacks on Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell during the Confederate History Month controversy at a time when many others were unwilling to do so. He was one of the few Republicans to defend Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels when Daniels called for a social issues "truce" while the nation deals with the national emergency of the fiscal crisis. While emphasizing his own strong pro-life credentials, Barbour argued in the context of last year's midterms that elections should be about the issues that are on voters' minds -- and thus fiscal and economic issues should be emphasized in the current environment. Last month, when he was asked to condemn attempts to make a license plate commemorating KKK founder Nathan Bedford Forrest, Barbour while arguing that the plate had no chance of actually happening, told reporters, "I don't go around denouncing people." He meant those that were pushing for the plates, but this came across in headlines as if he were somehow inadequately anti-KKK.
At the same time, it's his affable manner and unwillingness to make enemies that has made Barbour one of the best-connected Republicans as well as one of the most talented fundraisers in politics. That's why it isn't a surprise that, as Politico reports, Barbour has gone out of his way recently to praise Mike Huckabee, and Huckabee has had kind words for his fellow southerner. Should Huckabee decide against running for president, his endorsement will be aggressively sought by the rest of the field, particularly given his popularity in Iowa and among evangelical voters more generally. Keep in mind that Huckabee has never mended fences with Mitt Romney after their bitter battle during the 2008 GOP presidential race. With the Republican electorate divided over the current crop of likely candidates, we shouldn't underestimate the importance of Barbour's ability to build alliances foster good will with the rest of the potential field.