The rhetoric among presidential candidates especially those in the GOP seeking to secure a spot in next month’s first primary debate appears to be an attempt to out-Herod Herod, or its modern day equivalent: to out-Trump Trump.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee this past weekend said that, in pushing for a deal to disarm Iran, President Barack Obama “will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven,” a reference to the process Nazis used to kill Jews in death camps during World War II.
“The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are, I think, part of just a general pattern we’ve seen that would be considered ridiculous if it weren’t so sad,” Obama said at a press conference in Ethiopia Monday. “Maybe this is just an effort to push Mr. Trump out of the headlines, but it’s not the kind of leadership that’s needed for America right now.”
Republican candidates have looked in awe, dismay and even panic as Trump has shot to the top of the polls in just weeks since launching his presidential campaign, with that popularity seemingly coming from his compounding outrageous comments on everything from calling Mexicans rapists to saying Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam POW, is not a war hero.
For the 2016 Republican candidates, polling numbers right now are very important, and the stakes are high. The first GOP presidential debate takes place Aug. 6, and per the rules stipulated by debate host Fox News, only the top 10 contenders leading in the polls will be allowed to participate.
So with 16 official Republican candidates vying to make the cut, taking a page out of Trump’s playbook can be a tempting tactic.
And while it appears that Huckabee’s comments on Breitbart News on Saturday may have crossed the line with Democrats, moderates, Jewish leaders and even Israeli leaders opposed to the Iran deal, many Republicans, including right-wing media, have actually embraced the comments.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum said Huckabee’s remarks were “absolutely right.”
CNN conservative political commentator S.E. Cupp said his comment was “100 percent an accurate statement” and “absolutely true,” while Washington Examinermanaging editor Philip Klein wrote an opinion piece headlined, “Huckabee is right: Obama’s Iran deal would enable a second Holocaust.”
Many others agreed with Huckabee’s sentiment, though said they would have used different words.
For his part, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called Huckabee’s language “just wrong” and urged Republicans to “tone down the rhetoric.”
In an interview with Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren Tuesday night, Trump himself defended Huckabee’s choice of words, saying the former Arkansas governor has nothing to apologize for.
“I’m OK with it,” Trump said. “I think he’s a very good guy, Huckabee, by the way, and I’m really OK with it. Some people are saying, ‘Oh, the tone,’ and I saw Jeb Bush, who I also think is a nice person, but it’s not about tone. I mean, they’re chopping off Christians’ heads in Syria and lots of other places and we’re worried about tone. I think what Mike has done is he has hit a nerve and he’s made people think a little bit.”
Outside of the conservative echo chamber, Huckabee’s remarks drew widespread condemnation.
“Comments like these are offensive and have no place in our political dialogue. I am disappointed and I am really offended personally,” said Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton. “I know Governor Huckabee. I have a cordial relationship with him but I find this kind of inflammatory rhetoric totally unacceptable. It should be repudiated by every person of good faith and concern about the necessity to keep our political dialogue on the facts and within suitable boundaries.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that Huckabee’s comments were “completely out of line and unacceptable. To hear Mr. Huckabee invoke the Holocaust when America is Israel’s greatest ally and when Israel is a strong nation capable of defending itself is disheartening.”
Meanwhile, Israeli leaders themselves including those opposed to the deal with Iran rejected Huckabee’s comments.
Transportation Minister Israel Katz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Tuesday took to Facebook, saying the comments were “wrong and unnecessary.”
“Nobody marches the Jews to ovens anymore. To this end we established the State of Israel and the [Israel Defense Forces]; and, if need be, we will know how to defend ourselves, by ourselves.” Israeli Transportation Minister Israel Katz
Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President George W. Bush, said on MSNBC that Huckabee’s comments were akin to the type of rhetoric that led to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli radical in 1995.
“In some ways it’s a form of incitement, and we’ve seen the results of that 20 years ago in Israel. There are serious issues to be debated here, but for anybody to equate what the president’s doing to what Adolf Hitler did in World War II is just extraordinary,” he said. “I just hope that people really stand back and understand that Mr. Huckabee has crossed a very serious line here. Every Republican candidate should stand up, condemn this and ask him to retract it.”
However, also in Trump-like fashion, Huckabee not only is not apologizing, but he has been doubling down.
“The response from Jewish people has been overwhelmingly positive,” Huckabee said Tuesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “The response from Holocaust survivors, from the children of Holocaust survivors … People were overwhelmingly supportive.”