But the more important factor has been the astounding presence of Donald Trump as the front-runner. The orangutan-haired real estate magnate entered the race in mid-June and immediately blew up cable and Twitter by denouncing Mexicans as rapists and ripping 2008 nominee John McCain for having been captured in war.
Both moves would have been fatal to “serious” candidates in previous elections. But amid the strange Republican leadership void of 2016, the furor only gave Trump further saturation among the brainless nativists in his party and inexplicably vaulted him to front-runner status. The combination of Trump constantly spewing crazy quotes and the strategy actually working turned his campaign into a veritable media supernova, earning the Donald more coverage than all of the other candidates combined.
This led to a situation where the candidates have had to resort to increasingly bizarre tactics in order to win press attention. Add to this the curious dynamic of the first Republican debate, on August 6th, in which only the top 10 poll performers get on the main stage, and the incentive to say outlandish things in search of a poll bump quickly reached a fever pitch. So much for the cautious feeling-out period: For the candidates, it was toss grenades or die.
Back in the Rockwell City library, the small contingent of reporters covering the day’s third “Huckabee Huddle” was buzzing. A local TV guy was staring at his notes with a confused look on his face, like he couldn’t believe what he read. “Weirdest thing,” he said. “I was just in Jefferson, and Huckabee said something about invoking the 14th and 5th amendments to end abortion. I’m really not sure what he meant.”
This GOP race is a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.
A moment later, Huckabee sauntered into the library for an ad-hoc presser, and was quickly asked what he meant. “Just what I said,” he quipped. “It is the job of the federal government to protect the citizens under the Constitution.”
He went on to explain that even the unborn were entitled to rights of “due process and equal protection.” The attendant reporters all glanced sideways at one another. The idea of using the 14th Amendment, designed to protect the rights of ex-slaves, as a tool to outlaw abortion in the 21st century clearly would have its own dark appeal to the Fox crowd. But it occurred to me that Huckabee might have had more in mind.
“Are we talking about sending the FBI or the National Guard to close abortion clinics?” I asked.
“We’ll see when I get to be president,” he answered.
Huckabee smiled. Perhaps alone among all the non-Trump candidates, Huckabee knows what kind of fight he’s in. This GOP race is not about policy or electability or even raising money. Instead, it’s about Nielsen ratings or trending. It’s a minute-to-minute contest for media heat and Internet hits, where positive and negative attention are almost equally valuable.
Huckabee launched his campaign on May 5th, running on a carefully crafted and somewhat unconventional Republican platform centered around economic populism, vowing to end “stagnant wages” and help people reach a “higher ground.”