Huckabee + Debates = Sexist Jokes

by Chris Tognotti

Well, you knew it was going to happen eventually. If you put a bunch of Republican office-seekers on a debate stage for long enough, you're going to hear some sort of casually sexist crack eventually. And if you're looking for the safe money, you probably could've bet who was going to go first: Mike Huckabee made a sexist joke at the undercard debate, and to no surprise, it was at the expense of his wife.

The reason it's not surprising is that he's done this before. During the third GOP debate on CNBC, he also deflected away from a question by making a joke about his wife Janet. And just like the latest one, it wasn't so well received by feminist and progressive viewers — he avoided answering what his greatest weakness was by remarking "I don't really have any weaknesses that I can think of, but if you talk to my wife, I think she'll give you more."

On Tuesday evening, he went with a slightly more tortured joke, both eye-rollingly unfunny, and playing into time-worn stereotypes of the aggressive, nagging wife. When asked if he'd want to keep Janet Yellen as Fed chair, Huckabee joked that when he hears "Janet Yellen," he thinks of his wife, well, yellin'.

Well my wife's name is Janet, and when you say Janet yelling, I'm very familiar with what you mean.

Make no mistake, it was a cagey move given a sympathetic audience — and it showed a sort of improvisational instinct on Huckabee's part, which isn't a skill politicians can always learn. You can tell the delivery was at least somewhat played by ear, because he didn't know when (if at all) Yellen's name would come up in the debate.

After the first Republican debate in August, Vanity Fair had comedian Chris Gethard rate the candidates' skills as improvisational theater performers, and Huckabee was the one he termed "the best pure improviser in the group." At the very least, that title seems validated by his crisp delivery — being willing to commit to a bad joke, after all, is better than giving up on it halfway through.

In any event, it was yet another sexist, cringeworthy joke from the former Arkansas governor, and at a time when his campaign is clearly circling the drain. There's no telling how much longer he'll be in the race, with his poor poll numbers threatening even his participation in the undercard debates going forward, so it's entirely possible that this is the way he decided to go out.