To hear the press tell it, the best moment of last night's debate was when Mike Huckabee answered a question about whether Jesus would support the death penalty by saying, "Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office." Reporters were in awe. The Washington Post called it "the best line of the night.The Chicago Tribune said Huckabee hit the question "over the fence." It was the only quote from the debate Mara Liasson included in her NPR report.

But what reporters didn't note is that Huckabee was dodging a direct question on the very area -- the intersection of religion and policy -- on which he is building his campaign. The man whose ads call him a "Christian Leader" and who says his faith "defines me" wouldn't answer a pretty simple question on how his faith affects his opinion on a policy issue.

But the press stood up an applauded. So witty! So clever! Ah, that Mike Huckabee, what a lovable guy!

And here's something else: is it possible Mike Huckabee isn't really so nice, but that he's just really, really good at seeming nice? Let's take his answer to a question about NASA sending humans to Mars; in his answer, he said, "Now, whether we need to send somebody to Mars, I don't know. But I'll tell you what: If we do, I've got a few suggestions, and maybe Hillary could be on the first rocket to Mars." Everyone laughed. But the best word to describe that crack is is probably "bitchy." It was just a cheap shot, both ugly and shamelessly pandering. It came from a place of hate within Mike Huckabee's heart and those of the audience whose favor he was seeking. But he said it with a smile, so I guess that means it's OK.

There's no doubt Huckabee is smooth. But it's no accident that Zig Ziglar, grand old man of the con game of inspirational self-help speaking, has endorsed Huckabee.

-- Paul Waldman

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