The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Mike Huckabee tweets photo comparing Nancy Pelosi’s campaign staff to MS-13 gang members

Republican presidential candidate and former governor Mike Huckabee speaks during a forum for lower-polling candidates held before the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas on Dec. 15, 2015. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Hours before Mike Huckabee lamented the treatment of his daughter at a Virginia restaurant, the former Arkansas governor tweeted a photo Saturday morning of a group of tattooed gang members and suggested they made up  Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s campaign committee to “take back” the House of Representatives.

The false implication was clear: Huckabee was another of many Republicans once again trying to stick the House minority leader with the image of an MS-13 gang sympathizer.

“Trump and his surrogates will continue to repeat blatantly false attacks as long as the media continues to take the bait and print them,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told The Washington Post.

The origins of this line of attack against Pelosi were a May 16 roundtable President Trump held on immigration and crime, where Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims bemoaned California state laws that were hampering police work.

“There could be an MS-13 member I know about — if they don’t reach a certain threshold, I cannot tell ICE about it,” Mims said.

Trump then said: “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — and we’re stopping a lot of them — but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people. These are animals.

On May 17, President Trump responded to a question from a reporter on remarks he had made the previous day about the deportation of MS-13 gang members. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

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.

The Associated Press, for instance, first tweeted the quote without the context that Trump had been talking about MS-13 gang members. The wire service later deleted its tweet.

Nevertheless, the GOP pounced on Pelosi’s news conference — and it’s been a catechism ever since that she “defended MS-13.” At a May 23 summit in New York, Trump told an audience that “Democrats, Nancy Pelosi as an example, are trying to defend MS-13 gang members” after he had “called them animals the other day.” In a Saturday tweet, RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel claimed that “Nancy Pelosi defended MS-13″ after Trump’s May 16 roundtable.

The game of telephone has fit into the preferred GOP messaging: that the president is trying to protect people from criminals, and Democrats want to stop him. Days after the roundtable, the White House released a formal statement titled “What You Need To Know About The Violent Animals Of MS-13.”

Huckabee’s tweet was met with outrage Saturday from prominent public figures who said it was racist, “blood libel” and just plain unfunny. Some called out Huckabee’s hypocrisy in tweeting out such an image as a Christian minister.

On Saturday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — the group charged with electing a Democratic House — took an under-the-radar approach to rebuking Huckabee.

The group’s Hispanic media director, Javier Gamboa, replied to Huckabee’s tweet with a photo of DCCC chairman Ben Ray Luján holding a T-shirt that stated “WE ARE ALL DREAMERS.”

“He is the Latino that is going to take back the House & I couldn’t be prouder to work at the @dccc w/ him,” Gamboa tweeted.

The DCCC’s main Twitter account also retweeted a photo from its executive director, Dan Sena, with a note telling Huckabee that he had gotten “the wrong picture.”

“These are the Hispanic staff at the @DCCC who are fighting to take back the House,” Sena tweeted.

Huckabee did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday afternoon — nor did he reply to the DCCC tweets directed at him. By late Saturday morning, he had moved on to focus on his daughter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who had been asked to leave Red Hen, a Virginia restaurant, the night before because of her association with Trump and his policies.

“Bigotry,” Huckabee declared of the Red Hen owner’s request, before accusing the restaurant of serving “small plates for small minds.”

When others pointed to Huckabee’s defense of his daughter and the MS-13 tweet, he claimed that the photo wasn’t about race but “an illegal gang.”

“Are you defending them too?” he said.

Read more:

The slippery slope of the Trump administration’s political embrace of calling MS-13 ‘animals’

‘A ticking time bomb’: MS-13 threatens a middle school, warn teachers, parents, students

Why a small-town restaurant owner asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave — and would do it again

A jogger accidentally crossed into the U.S. from Canada and was detained for two weeks