I first became acquainted with Mike Huckabee more than a decade ago, when I was part of a project at Time magazine in which we named him one of America’s five best governors. The magazine noted that the Republican governor of Arkansas was “a mature, consensus-building conservative who earns praise from fellow Evangelicals and, occasionally, liberal Democrats.”

When he ran for president in 2008, I was one of many journalists impressed by how his gentle humor and faith-based sensibility distinguished him from the field. As his stock was rising in Iowa in late 2007, I noted: “His successes have been all the more remarkable for having been accomplished on a shoestring budget, suggesting that genuine voter affection, as opposed to advertising dollars, is driving the Huckabee surge.”

So I was shocked when this landed in my Twitter feed on Saturday:

Twitter is not great for context, and apparently this was supposed to be a joke based on something House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) never actually said. My colleagues David Weigel and Amy B Wang explain that after President Trump used the word “animals” about (depending on your interpretation of his remarks) immigrants or MS-13 gang members:

Hours later, Pelosi responded to Trump’s remarks at a news conference, though no reporter had asked about them.
“We believe, some of us who are attracted to the political arena, to government and public service, that we’re all God’s children, there’s a spark of divinity in every person on Earth, and that we all have to recognize that as we respect the dignity and worth of every person and as we recognize our responsibilities with that spark of divinity within us,” Pelosi said.
She continued: “And so, when the president of the United States says about undocumented immigrants, ‘These aren’t people, these are animals,’ you have to wonder does he not believe in the spark of divinity, the dignity and worth of every person? These are not people. These are animals. The president of the United States.”
Pelosi never mentioned MS-13. Early reports were unclear with regard to who the “animals” were, after Trump seemed to veer into talking about all immigrants. Soon, the “animals” quote went viral on social media, reaching people who had not watched the roundtable.

What Huckabee said in his tweet wasn’t the point. It was the image — and the implication should not be sugarcoated.

There was a lot of criticism of Huckabee on Twitter. I thought conservative Erick Erickson was most on the mark:

But somehow, my tweet was the one that got under Huckabee’s skin, and he responded by accusing me of being a sympathizer of MS-13:

So apparently, that has become Huckabee’s go-to line: You are either with him or with a murderous gang.

This is something I never would have imagined when I first met Huckabee. He has come a long way. I hope he finds his way back.