Perhaps McDonald’s should offer a McHuckabee Burger: a little beef with lots of baloney and ham. Topped with nuts.

Mike Huckabee Obama Kenya Nataile Portman

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Mark March 2011 as the date when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee forfeited his emerging position as a more thoughtful conservative who had started to get the ear of many independents, moderate Republicans and centrist Democrats. By saying Barack Obama grew up in Kenya (Obama didn’t), didn’t have as an American upbringing as most Americans who were in the Boy Scouts (earth to Mike: not every American kid is in the Scouts) and attended a madrassa (debunked by CNN in 2007) Huckabee has become just one more pandering conservative scrambling to join the cast of the new, birther-produced, live-action version of “Looney Tunes.”

Any day now I’m expecting a talk show host to say, “Well, if Obama didn’t go to a madrassa, then he wore a madras jacket!”

But wait: rather than sticking just one foot in his mouth, Huckabee next firmly inserted the other by criticizing Oscar-winner Natalie Portman’s pregnancy because she’s not married, a far cry from his words of kindness when Sarah Palin’s unwed daughter became pregnant. He and his handlers later walked each zinger back, unconvincingly claiming he was misunderstood.

What was Huckabee up to? Some analysts think he has no intention of running, even though he’s in the top ranks of preferred candidates among GOPers in 2012 Presidential polls. Some think he’s trying to sell more books.

The problem: the way he’s coming across now, it wouldn’t be surprising to soon hear him say: “Winning! DUH!”

His self-inflicted image damage is unfortunate for the Republican Party ““ and for the country.

George Will points to Huckabee as one of the GOPers now emitting “vibrations of weirdness” and also mentions former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But many Americans ““ particularly independent voters ““ long accepted Gingrich as a politician bubbling with ideas who never met a verbal bomb that he didn’t seek to hurl.

Huckabee seemed more s-e-r-i-o-u-s. He seemed to symbolize those conservatives who don’t parrot Rush or Sean and who aren’t fans of Michelle Bachmann. Now he has acquired the odor of someone who’ll do or say anything to ingratiate himself with those who could vote for him ““ or buy his new book.

In terms of independent voters, Huckabee is now taking on political baggage as quickly as he is regaining weight. He’s no longer a social conservative who makes the mind’s ear faintly hear “Hail to the Chief.” Now the mind’s ear hears “The Twilight Zone” theme.

The good news for the GOP: there are still thoughtful Republicans who want to talk about issues, seriously take on Barack Obama and make the case for conservatism and Republicanism. But unless the GOP only plans to win its base in 2012, it might hide its batty relatives in the basement and showcase more stable members of the GOP family who are more interested in aggressively debating policy rather than shoveling out disinformation immediately recognized as such by those who don’t belong to the GOP base.

On the other hand, maybe Huckabee only wants to be in the backroom selling his books and clamoring to get a seat at the tea party.

But it will be far easier for Huckabee to get tea back in a teapot than to regain his lost credibility as a serious, thoughtful conservative. “Losing! DUH!”

“””“

Copyright 2011 Joe Gandelman

Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at [email protected] and can be booked to speak at your event at www.mavenproductions.com.

Follow Joe Gandelman on Twitter @joegandelman.