The conspiracy theories about Huck’s Christmas ad are not only unfounded, they’re playing right into Gov. Huckabee’s hands. Huckabee gets to spend the first two minutes of this segment defending the ad on perfectly defensible and sensible ground instead of defending his record. Then he pivots to go on the offensive against Mitt Romney for not granting clemency to some kid instead of having to defend his own 1000+ clemencies and whether any of them were bought and paid for. Later on, he is asked about Rich Lowry’s “Huckacide” article, which Huckabee deftly uses to make the case that he’s an outsider to the Washington power establishment rather than have to attack the article’s substantive arguments against him. All in all, very well played. The line about blinking in code made me laugh. If his policies weren’t so liberal and his foreign policy wasn’t so obviously naive, or especially if I didn’t pay attention to either of those things, he’d win me over.

Update (AP): What Huck doesn’t understand, or pretends not to understand, is that it isn’t his saying “Merry Christmas” that’s caused a fuss. If it was, Giuliani’s and Paul’s ads would be getting the same scrutiny. It’s his using something as innocuous as a Christmas ad to inject yet more religion into his “Christian leader” campaign while studiously feigning a little-boy “who, me?” naivete about what he’s doing. Playing it off as an objection to season’s greetings is his typically cynical way of connecting the ruckus to some sort of antipathy to Christianity, a la the “war on Christmas,” in the minds of his supporters.

As for the part about clemencies, what does he mean that no one walked out of jail a murderer? What about Maxwell?

But never mind that. The amazing thing here is the last two minutes, which echo eerily Lee Harris’s whine yesterday about some phantom east-coast conservative establishment that can’t stand Huck not because he’s bad on taxes, or crime, or immigration, or terrorism, but because he’s an evangelical who came up the hard way. It’s two different types of populist demagoguery rolled into one: class resentment, per his “Main Street vs. Wall Street” shtick, and religious resentment, per his suggestion that Beltway Republicans don’t want Christians to be “part of the discussion.” Part of the discussion? Hey, Huck — who is it who’s been threatening for months to torpedo the party if they don’t get a pro-life candidate? You own the discussion.

He can’t win on the issues so he’ll try to win on antagonism and spite, all the while professing to be the picture of innocence. Awful.