Can a former Baptist preacher throw a Hail Mary? Mike Huckabee, who soared to the top of the polls in Iowa only to see his lead disappear under an advertising assault from Mitt Romney, has just finished a very strange press conference. In front of perhaps the largest press crowd in Iowa history (the event was held in the hotel where the press is staying, so reporters came with bed head), Huckabee has said that he isn’t going to run the attack ad he spent Sunday making. Minutes before the press conference—where he was to unveil and explain the new ads—he’d decided not to go negative, calling the stations where the spots were planning to air and killing them.
Despite changing his mind, Huckabee still wanted to show the press the negative ad he wasn’t going to run. A transcript of the event will show this response from the press corps:
“Bwahahahahaha!” [sound of reporters falling out of chairs, doubled over in laughter]
Reporters saw the spectacle as a transparent charade to get them to run Huckabee’s ad for him while allowing him to maintain the high road. The ad was a standard attack ad with pictures of Romney and claims about his record on taxes, the death penalty, and the deficit he left in Massachusetts after his term as governor. Despite Huckabee’s switcheroo, the room was also filled with easels displaying Romney distortions, which Huckabee and aides said couldn’t be pulled down because the candidate had made his decision so recently.
How will the Iowa caucus-goer respond? He or she will either think this is the most craven and cynical move in politics, or take Huckabee at his word about his last-minute change of heart. “If you gain the world and lose your own soul, what does it profit you?” the candidate asked, and it must be said that he looked like a man who had just had a blood transfusion. Voters might sympathize with the confusion that might come from being a poorly funded candidate against a self-financed juggernaut. Or, there’s a third hard-to-escape possibility: Iowans will find the whole zigzag episode—he was for attack ads before he was against them—just wobbly and confused. Not the kind of profile you want to project just before the voting begins.