Yes, that is what it takes to become the Republican frontrunner these days. Not innovative policy solutions. Not an impressive legislative record. No, what you need is to let loose a politically incorrect swipe at a liberal caricature, stir up a bunch of media outrage, and Republican primary voters will want to give you the nuclear codes.
The Republican Party is suffering record low favorability and struggling to be seen as capable of governing. And the Huckabee boomlet provides the latest evidence that the party's rank-and-file are still allergic to seriousness.
With the first 2016 primary contests two years away, Republicans have already begun replicating the dynamic of the 2012 primaries. Last time around, primary voters fleetingly embraced anyone, regardless of their plausibility, so long as they tossed out fresh "cable catnip" to make liberal heads explode. Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum... The revolving door of unpresidential wingnuts reduced the Republican primary to a traveling circus, hamstringing eventual nominee Mitt Romney as he struggled to keep up in the pander parade.
Another circus is not what party poo-bahs have in mind. Indeed, they're already moving to condense the primary schedule and wrest some control of the debates away from the media in hopes of dialing down the nuttiness.
Wipe the dust off of the RNC's year-old "autopsy" of its 2012 debacle, and you'll find a forgotten plan to "Promote Our Governors" because they "have campaigned and governed in a manner that is inclusive and appealing. They point the way forward … working successfully with their legislatures to enact meaningful changes in people's lives." In other words, the governors were supposed to be the ones with the ideas to make the party look serious again.
But over the course of 2013, the only governor that got widely promoted — or, more accurately, promoted himself — was New Jersey's Chris Christie, and we know how that turned out. Other governors touted in the autopsy have had their own struggles, be it Virginia's Bob McDonnell, who was recently indicted for corruption, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal ,who flopped trying scrap his state's income tax, or Wisconsin's Scott Walker, who is polling below 50 percent in his re-election campaign this year.
There are other low-key Republican governors who are doing just fine. In particular, Nevada's Brian Sandoval is hugely popular, and is a swing state Latino to boot. Unlike the controversial Walker, Sandoval doesn't even have a serious opponent to his re-election this year. But he's popular because he is governing pragmatically, implementing ObamaCare in good faith and forging budget compromises that raise some tax revenue. And so he is completely ignored by Republican primary voters.
The upshot is this: No Republican governor begins the race as a top-tier presidential candidate. No Republican governor's ideas are reshaping and rebranding the party. And a joke candidate like Huckabee can waltz into the lead, however briefly, with a low-rent crack.
Why are Republicans insistent on setting themselves up for more mockery? Because conservative obsession with fighting political correctness clouds their political thinking, compelling them to repeatedly alienate the moderate voters they need to get back in the game.
Many conservative Republicans seem to believe that political correctness is such a societal scourge, silencing ideas and warping debate, that it must be fought at all costs — even at the cost of forgoing new ideas.
This is why RNC Chair Reince Priebus was engaging in folly last week when he dropped everything to demand MSNBC apologize for a tweet suggesting the "right wing" is racist (after the network had already apologized). He was scratching the Republicans' politically incorrect itch, instead of finding the ointment.
Priebus can cram the primary schedule down to two weeks and turn every debate into an infomercial. But until he can clamp down on the victimhood and crank up the idea machine, 2016 will be another cacophonous GOP circus.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- Sorry, GOP, tax cuts don't pay for themselves
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Pope Francis' American problem
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Are there dogs in heaven? Let's hope not.
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- 10 things you need to know today: December 19, 2014
- Hey, bosses: Stop giving bonuses to your employees
Subscribe to the Week