Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested in a radio interview that President Barack Obama's childhood in Kenya shaped his worldview – even though Obama did not visit Kenya until he was in his 20s.
The potential Republican presidential candidate told New York radio station WOR on Monday that Obama's youth led him to resent the West, which he said explains why, in Huckabee's view, Obama's foreign policy differs so greatly from that of his predecessors.
"One thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, (is) very different than the average American," Huckabee said, pointing to Obama's decision in 2009 to remove a bust of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the Oval Office.
He failed to note that Obama replaced the Oval Office fixture with a bust of one of his American heroes, President Abraham Lincoln, and moved the Churchill bust to the White House residence.
"The bust of Winston Churchill, a great insult to the British," Huckabee said. "But then if you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather. He probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather."
Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, was detained in a 1952 uprising against British colonial rule in Kenya. Huckabee said childhood stories of the Mau Mau rebellion led President Obama to remove from the Oval Office the bust of Churchill, who ordered a crackdown against that uprising.
The executive director of Huckabee's political action committee said the former governor misspoke.
"When the governor mentioned he wanted to know more about the president, he wasn't talking about the president's place of birth – the governor believes the president was born in Hawaii," Hogan Gidley said. "The governor would, however, like to know more about where President Obama's liberal policies come from and what else the president plans to do to this country – as do most Americans."
Gidley said Huckabee meant to reference Obama's childhood in Indonesia, where he lived from the ages of 5 to 10. Gidley didn't explain the connection to the Mau Mau uprising.
Obama was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a mother from Kansas and a father from Kenya whom he met only once, he wrote in his memoir. He spent the first five years of his life in Hawaii and then moved with his since-divorced mother and her new husband to Indonesia. At the age of 10, he returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents on Oahu until he started his undergraduate degree in Los Angeles and completed it in New York City.
"The first time I came to Kenya was in 1987," Obama said at the University of Nairobi in 2006. "I had just finished three years of work as a community organizer in low-income neighborhoods of Chicago, and was about to enroll in law school. My sister, Auma, was teaching that year at this university, and so I came to stay with her for a month."
Many conservative activists believe – and some have unsuccessfully filed lawsuits to prove – that Obama is a Kenyan who does not meet the Constitution's citizenship requirement. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last year found 14 percent of Americans say without prompting that they believe Obama was born in another country. That number rose to 20 percent when those with no opinion were given that as an option.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama posted a copy of his birth certificate on his website to confront persistent rumors. It did little to assuage skeptics who are convinced by Internet rumors and conservative talk radio hosts that Obama was raised in his father's homeland.
Huckabee himself has called these suggestions fringe theories that distract from the serious policy disagreements with Obama. During appearances for his book tour, he dismissed the so-called "birther" ideas.
And on Monday, just a few moments after he asserted Obama's Kenyan upbringing, Huckabee returned to what had been his standard rhetoric on the question of his birth certificate.
"The only reason I'm not as confident that there's something about the birth certificate ... is because I know the Clintons and believe me, they have lots of investigators out on him, and I'm convinced if there was anything that they could have found on that, they would have found it, and I promise they would have used it," Huckabee said.