Humor doesn’t sleep — it waits
Huckabee’s household-name status is due in no small part to the Huck-and-Chuck spots. Before TV star Chuck Norris came on board, it was obvious that the former Arkansas governor was amiable, clear-spoken, and actually pretty funny. But he didn’t pop out and go on to win Iowa until — as his rivals were competing over how many Mexicans they’d round up — he ran an ad introduced as “An important policy message from Governor Mike Huckabee.”
“My plan to secure the border?” Huckabee asks the camera. “Two words: Chuck Norris.” To the sound of a rattlesnake’s rattle, Chuck bears witness to Huck’s, if you’ll pardon my Spanish, machismo: “Mike Huckabee’s a lifelong hunter who will protect our Second Amendment rights.” Huck: “When Chuck Norris does a push-up, he isn’t lifting himself up, he’s pushing the Earth down.” Borrowing just a few lines from the humor/tribute site chucknorrisfacts.com, Huckabee defused the anti-immigrant game of chicken while making the new “Chuck Norris–approved” Huckabee seem tough enough for bullet-eating Republicans.
It’s curious that, other than those early, little-aired Bill Richardson spots that riffed on his accomplishment-rich résumé (in the ads, a bored recruiter abruptly dismisses the New Mexico governor as overqualified for the job), no Democrat has tried being funny. It might have helped Edwards especially — his ads were fine, as full of meaningful policy positions as his entire campaign, but just think what Geico could have done with ads about the costs of corporate greed. Edwards campaign adviser Joe Trippi once e-mailed Bill Hillsman — the guy whose high-comedy commercials brought Minnesotans Paul Wellstone and Jesse Ventura into office — to try his hand at some Edwards spots. But the former North Carolina senator ultimately decided that Methodists like him don’t do shtick.
The race is no longer to the Swift Boats
Romney’s frequently lobbed attack ads were dutifully traditional. To strains of ominous music, a voice-over would raise a rival’s name only as an insinuating question: as governor, Romney “never pardoned a single criminal.” “And Mike Huckabee? He granted 1033 pardons and commutations.”
Huckabee, having hoovered up former Reagan campaign chief and amateur boxer Ed Rollins after Iowa, was going to strike back with a similar ad that asked, “Romney’s record? . . . No executions.” I can’t recall ever seeing one pol slam another for failing to kill anyone while in office. But the “Christian leader,” as Huckabee ID’s himself in evangelical-targeted ads, was spared that dubious distinction when he held a press conference to show the ad and then, amid reporters’ derisive laughter, claimed he was too moral to actually buy time for it.
Still, the Huckster got to denounce nasty advertising while at the same time sneaking in his nasty advertising. And the fact remains, however hypocritical it may seem, that serial-attacker Romney is out and Huckabee is still in, and still winning states. There has been so much talk about misleading ads this year — “The dump truck is backing up,” Obama joked at a New Hampshire rally, “Beep, beep, beep” — that going negative has a real downside.