People who like to talk, also like applause. Photographer: Cheryl Senter/Bloomberg News
People who like to talk, also like applause. Photographer: Cheryl Senter/Bloomberg News

Today’s flap is a quote from Mike Huckabee, who I suppose is sort of running for the 2016 Republican nomination for president, or at least for better ratings or book sales or whatever. In a speech today at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting, the Huck said something about women who “can’t control their libido.” So yet again we have a conservative politician saying something that many women (and men) will find bizarrely offensive, and about which most observers can only wonder: How does junk like this even come up?

Dave Weigel, longtime close observer of conservatives, nails the answer. Weigel noticed that it’s a line that Huckabee has been trotting out recently, and notes: “[I]t's a crowd-pleaser, if only to a select audience.”

Which I think pretty much covers it. It’s certainly possible that Republican politicians and conservative yappers keep saying stupid things about rape and sexuality and what-all because they’re idiots or misogynists (or both). But a much more likely explanation is that they keep falling into this trap because politicians love applause lines, and there’s a segment of the conservative audience that just loves this stuff.

In that sense, it’s similar to Obama birther references or teleprompter jokes; there is a strong temptation to play to an audience that relishes such comments. (Recall the string of embarrassments during the 2012 Republican presidential debates caused not by foolish things said by candidates, but by unseemly responses from audiences.)

I suppose there’s something of a chicken-and-egg question here: Is this behavior driven by the conservative marketplace? Or has that market been created and cultivated by opportunistic politicians? I haven’t seen a good analysis of that question. For now, the audience clearly exists and is primed to respond to any number of cues and provocations, in no small part (it seems to me) simply because they’re provocative. That is, there’s something Jerry Springer-like about the whole thing.

Which is great if the goal is to win over a small, hyper-conservative audience segment. But not so great if you’re interested in extending your appeal beyond it.