"It is so naive that [Barack Obama] would trust the Iranians," Mike Huckabee told Breitbart on Saturday. "By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven."
According to the informal rulebook that governs press coverage of second-tier presidential candidates, a Holocaust comparison is good for at least a day of headlines. If the comment casts a sitting president as the title character in The Day the Clown Cried, you can probably extend the fuss a little longer. And so Huckabee's apocalyptic remarks have won him some attention at a time when Donald Trump was sucking not just all the oxygen out of the room, but all the nitrogen, argon, and CO2 too. That's a minor victory for Huckabee, I suppose, though the fact that he only managed to stand out among Trump's rivals by saying something Trumpish is a little sad, as though The New York Times decided to chase Web traffic by giving everything an Upworthy-style headline.
Actually, pretty much everything about Huckabee's campaign so far has been a little sad. The former Arkansas governor, who is currently averaging about 6 percent in the polls, entered the race planning to stress economic issues in a way that might appeal to blue-collar populists—a candidate for socially conservative voters who aren't comfortable with the business wing of the Republican Party. As a strategy for standing out, this made a certain amount of sense, though it faced the obstacle that rival candidate Rick Santorum intended to do the exact same thing. But Santorum has been even less visible than Huckabee has, so that hasn't been Huckabee's problem.
The problem is that since he officially joined the race, the press hasn't paid any attention to Huckabee's ideas about entitlements and the like. The candidate has been pigeonholed as the social conservative's social conservative, and almost all the attention he has gotten has involved him playing that role. Sometimes he has gone looking for that sort of coverage. (When the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, it was inevitable that Huckabee was going to have a strong reaction.) But a lot of the time, perhaps most of the time, the role has caught him unexpected. When his weird joke about transgender bathrooms made the news in June, for example, it wasn't because he decided to make transgender bathrooms a campaign issue; it's because reporters dug up some comments he'd made in a speech way back in February. And I think it's safe to say Huckabee didn't expect to spend any time fending off suggestions that he was hypocritical or worse for his relationship with the scandal-tainted Duggar family. But the Duggars may represent the most media attention that Huckabee has gotten since he announced his candidacy. The minor miracle of his Iran comments is that he's getting coverage for something that isn't directly connected to social issues.
The presidential race has barely started, and the upcoming GOP debate may give Huckabee a chance to reorient his public persona on his own terms. But it's just as likely that he'll end up being just another foil onstage at the Donald Trump Show. Or worse yet, a candidate so inessential that the Donald doesn't even bother to attack him.