The best part about Mike Huckabee’s surge in Iowa—and his resulting increase in speaking time during last night’s debate—is that we’re bound to hear more Huckabee-isms. No, not those cute jokes about Jesus being too smart to go into politics . I’m talking about his penchant for vivid imagery that, while hilarious, often feels slightly unsettling.
Take the time Huckabee told MSNBC that because his opponents’ levels of support didn’t match their fund-raising, they would "have to be sitting in a warm tub of water with razor blades." He upset a few suicide prevention groups, but it never turned into a real flap. Other morbid images: "You never put the cross hairs on a dead carcass," he said , after rivals attacked him last month. Then at the Oct. 21 GOP debate in Florida: "I am more than content to let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other's blood. …" And then last night, responding to a question about space exploration, Huckabee suggested that "maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket to Mars."
The reason these bizarre quips fly is simple: He smiles the whole time. Yes, he may have suggested that the former first lady should be sent on a likely fatal mission to a faraway planet. But look at those dimples! He’s the class clown who gets away with wisecracks just by being so darn likeable.
Indeed, his good nature might be Huckabee’s best defense. Last night, Romney accused him of supporting tuition breaks for illegal immigrants. But even Romney had to preface the attack by admitting, "I like Mike." The other candidates mostly left him alone, despite Huckabee’s controversial support for the Fair Tax, his unorthodox immigration stance, and ethics investigations during his time as governor of Arkansas. Laying off Huckabee is smart, at least for now: It’s not just that he’s quick with a riposte; it might also make the attacker look like a bully, or a nag, or a bore. A Huckabee line is likely to end with the audience laughing—a weapon even the best debaters have trouble combating.
Things could change if Huckabee’s supposedly notorious temper decides to make an appearance. But for now, he seems about as threatening as Pooh Bear.