Who Will Outrage His Way to the Top of the 2016 Republican Field?

A new poll indicates that Mike Huckabee now leads the Republicans' 2016 field (for what it's worth), because nothing energizes Republican voters like pissing liberals off.

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A new poll indicates that Mike Huckabee's suggestion that Democrats think women "cannot control their libido" was far from damaging to his maybe-2016-candidacy. In fact, he now leads the field (for what it's worth), because nothing energizes Republican voters like pissing liberals off.

It's a pretty good bet that Huckabee knew exactly what he was doing when he told the Republican National Committee that Democrats figured women were helpless without free birth control. It took him approximately zero minutes to send out a fundraising email about it. And according to Public Policy Polling, the controversy has paid dividends in the public eye. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz "had been leading the field among 'very conservative' voters for months but in the wake of Huckabee's press attention last week he's taken the top spot with that group," the polling firm reports. Overall, Huckabee has a slight lead over the other likely candidates. Which when it comes to predicting who will actually win in 2016 is useless. But what it says about the response to the "outrage" is not.

Last night at the State of the Union, the two most-mentioned people online and on CNN were, one, Barack Obama, president of the United States, and, two, Willie Robertson, star of Duck Dynasty and bandana aficionado. Slate compiled a gallery of the Republican elected officials who not only met Robertson, but also went out of their way to get a picture with him and then also post that picture online.

If you're only recently aware of Duck Dynasty, that is likely because of Willie's father Phil's comments about the nature of homosexuality. Phil Robertson defended his attacks on gays by claiming that he was exercising his religious freedom, an argument that conservatives quickly and enthusiastically embraced. Robertson, and then the TV show, became a shorthand symbol of conservative values, just as Chick-fil-A did months earlier. So on a night when more Americans than usual were paying attention to Capitol Hill, Republicans went out of their way to be seen running their fingers through Willie Robertson's impressive beard. The controversy was good politics.

It was at Obama's first address to Congress that the value of creating a scene became apparent. South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson shouted "You lie!" at Obama during a 2009 speech, which quickly earned him the disapproval of his peers. And then, later that year, a bonanza in fundraising dollars. Hm, people said. Would you look at that.

So last night, Texas Rep. Randy Weber made a little investment in his own political future, tweeting: "On floor of house waitin on 'Kommandant-In-Chef'… the Socialistic dictator who's been feeding US a line or is it 'A-Lying?'" Everything about the tweet was dumb, from the misspelling of "chief" to the attempted differentiation between "feeding a line," which means lying, and "lying." But it got Randy Weber 1,000-plus retweets and a lot of attention — at least until Rep. Michael Grimm one-upped him. (The Daily Beast's Ben Jacobs sings a song of lament for Weber's failed troll.)

Of course, no one can top the all-time reigning champion of outrage generation, the former governor of Alaska. Sarah Palin has made a post-politics career out of whipping conservatives into a frenzy. It makes clear that outrage isn't itself a sure-fire political winner, but also that some conservatives love a person who gets them mad. And Huckabee is loved. That PPP poll showed he had the highest favorability rating of any 2016 Republican they asked about, with a net approval of 46 percentage points. That's a level of support that was only topped by one other person: Sarah Palin, at plus-50.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.