Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee entered the first presidential primary debate of the 2016 race in fourth position in a Fox News aggregate of national polls.
Judging by reaction to his debate performance, he likely solidified--if not improved--his position Thursday night.
Huckabee was one of 10 Republicans on the Quicken Loans Arena stage in Cleveland, Ohio, chosen out of a field of 17 for the prime-time debate because of their positions in the most recent polls. The other seven candidates took the same stage a few hours earlier.
Huckabee got six opportunities to answer questions in the two-hour debate and used his limited time to stake out a few positions to the right of his competitors on several issues.
"A lot of people are talking about defunding Planned Parenthood, as if that’s a big game-changer," the former Arkansas governor said. "I think we need to do something even more bold. I think the next president should invoke the 5th and 14th amendments to the Constitution, now that we clearly know that that baby inside the mother’s womb is a person at the moment of conception.
"It’s time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the Supreme Being and we change the policy to be pro-life and protect children instead of ripping up their body parts and selling them like they’re parts to a Buick."
Huckabee advocated a "Fair Tax", collected on consumption of goods and services. He said that plan would generate more revenue because it's "paid by everybody, including illegals, prostitutes, pimps, drug dealers--all the people that are freeloading off the system now."
That line prompted whoops from the boisterous audience and caused Moderator Megyn Kelly to quip, "(It's) getting a little R-rated."
Huckabee responded to a question about transgender soldiers by saying the military is not a social experiment. And, he excoriated President Obama over the Iran nuclear deal, which he said will make the world an "incredibly dangerous place."
He said the president is turning President Reagan's foreign policy motto of "trust but verify" into "trust and vilify".
"He trusts our enemies and vilifies everybody who disagrees with him," Huckabee said of the current president.
Not everyone thought Huckabee raised his stock in the Cleveland debate. Ouachita Baptist University Political Science Professor Hall Bass, who has known Huckabee for years, said the OBU graduate had "a couple of good sound bytes" but didn't particularly distinguish himself.
"It was a solid performance, but I think ultimately he ran in place," Bass told KUAR News immediately after the debate.