Friday, November 11, 2011

Could Huntsman Have...?

I agree with Ezra Klein's characterization of Jon Huntsman's campaign: "Huntsman has offered the Republican Party a generic conservative platform minus the partisan swagger." And I agree that with Mitt Romney already monopolizing that space within the GOP field, Huntsman's bid was pretty pointless.

But really: what were Huntsman's options? Klein posits (and Andrew Sullivan agrees) that Huntsman's campaign would have been less pointless had he actually taken some policy positions to match his attitudes -- say, supporting the climate platform that John McCain ran on just three years ago. And, yes, there certainly was room for a real moderate conservative dissent candidate within the Republican party. But that's not a campaign for the presidency; that's a campaign to change the party. It's hard to undertake that sort of thing (as a presidential campaign) unless you really are a true believer, which Huntsman perhaps just isn't. The other thing is that while Klein may be right that a dissent candidate might poll better than what Huntsman's doing now, the ceiling would have been low: he would have at best had a Ron Paul type of campaign, with a solid 5-15% and no chance for more, although with some chance of changing the party going forward.

Not that Huntsman has any realistic chance as is. And, really, he almost certainly never had a chance after he accepted the job from Barack Obama. But at least Romney-lite has the plausible-sounding scenario that if something was to happen to the Mittster, perhaps Huntsman could inherit (plausible-sounding, but probably not realistic; Romney does appear to be running about as good of a Romney-like campaign as possible, with opposition just about as weak as possible, and even so he's having quite the hard time consolidating very much support). If he was out there pushing actual policy positions that would draw vetoes from important party groups, he wouldn't have even that.

All of which means that Huntsman basically should not have run for president in this cycle. But if he really wants to be president, then I can't blame him for running the kind of campaign he's running. The real problem is that while presumably there are a fair number of non-crazy conservatives who believe all sorts of non-crazy things and would very much like a non-crazy conservative party to stand for those non-crazy policies, there doesn't seem to be very much of an incentive for anyone to act on it. True believers, again, might do it anyway, but it's pretty rare for something that depends on true believers to actually work out.


  1. I truly think Huntsman is hoping Obama will win reelection, giving the crazy wing of the GOP time to wane and giving him an opening for 2016. Whether it's a good strategy for achieving that goal is unclear to me, but I'm fairly convinced that's what he's doing. How else do you explain his scathing anti-Romney ads--exactly the sort of thing his more prominent rivals ought to be doing. Obviously he's not doing it to get in Romney's good graces, hoping for a vp slot or cabinet position or whatever. (Not that it would necessarily stop that from happening; there's a long tradition of vp selections who had previously undermined the guy at the top of the ticket--think "voodoo economics" or Biden's crack about Obama's experience.) I think he's genuinely trying to weaken Romney, hoping a nutjob will get the nomination instead and will go on to resounding defeat in the general election, thus sending the GOP a powerful message about its priorities and allowing for a comeback of relative moderates in the next cycle.

  2. Romney-lite wasn't a particularly good scenario either, though, because Mitt had already had a thorough vetting in 2008.

    However, Kylo's notion makes sense; I think that the test of it might be how long he stays in. If huntsman stays in long enough to start getting 10-20% vote shares after most of the others drop out, but quits before Romney has a mathematical certainty, then that'd be evidence for that theory, I think.

    Remember: while political scientists are dubious about it, there's a real chunk of people out there that think the GOP works off of "next in line"

  3. I think poor Huntsman believed those who talked him into the race: that so many hated Romney that Mitt couldn't get the nomination and that Huntsman would actually seem, not Romney-lite but more solidly reasonable conservative than Romney (anyone would seem more solid than Romney)and highly electable: someone with the intelligence to match up to Obama. I suspect Axelrod feared a contest (including debate) with Huntsman far more than any of the clowns.

    I think it has come as a real shock to Jon that voters have had as much trouble finding him as the camera crews had finding the Statue of Liberty the day he launched.

  4. Jon Huntsman is getting some good practice - making few mistakes, learning how to field "Presidential Candidate" questions, getting some name recognition, etc. Not a bad reason for a run for a guy in his position.

  5. The 2016 Republican nominee (assuming he isn't the incumbent) is likely to be more moderate than the 2012 field, but that's not necessarily Good News For Jon Huntsman. The right formula would be someone whom the conservative flank has already bonded with, but running on some kind of "kinder and gentler" platform. E.g., Marco Rubio. Quite likely, Huntsman's future, like Tim Pawlenty's, is as bleak as can be.

  6. Jonathan, why are you so bearish on Huntsman's chances? Does it have anything to do with the fact that he's seems stuck at 1-2% in polling? Because it seems to me that polling has been very volatile this cycle; and you keep reminding us that no one has actually voted yet.

    To me, Huntsman seems like the candidate that stands the best chance of grabbing voters that want general-election-viability, but dislike Romney. After all, he is running a Romney-lite campaign, but he comes with none of Mitt's baggage regarding health care reform or general wishy-washiness (though there still is the Mormon thing). I wouldn't be surprised if, when the dust settles after Iowa and NH, Huntsman is one of the very few candidates still alive.

  7. I agree somewhat with several of the earlier posters. Huntsman is running for 2016. It is as simple as that. Will it work? We will see in 2016.

  8. Huntsman is not at all "Romney-lite." He wants to bring home the troops from Afghanistan. Huntsman was also the only candidate to attack Romney in the last debate, calling Romney a demagogue for bashing China. At times, Huntsman can be almost as eager as Paul or Johnson in pushing back against national greatness conservatism/progressivism.

  9. "But at least Romney-lite has the plausible-sounding scenario..."


    I'm sorta chuckling at this sentence. It just demonstrates again that it is a near impossibility for lefties to comment coherently on anything but lefty politics. ;-)

    1. It is impossible for a "Romney-lite" to exist. Romney is his own "lite", and will become whatever shade of "lite" is required to win the nomination. Romney cannot be outflanked. There is no flank. There is an amoeba, absorbing all.

    2. If a fabled "Romney-lite" were to exist, presumably having avoided the amoeba's swallowing, it'd be even more impossible for that "Romney-lite" to get traction in this nomination process.

    3. Huntsman is clearly doing whatever he can to distance himself from any formulation of Romneyism, "lite" or otherwise, even as he follows the proven Romney path of using his own cash to fund a campaign. I suspect he's wasting his money, as it isn't helping him this time, and likely won't help him in the future. If Romney wins the election, Huntsman's out of it forever. If Romney loses the election, Huntsman's out of it forever, as the hated "Romney-lite" tag will be applied, fairly or not. And if Romney loses the primary, that same "Romney-lite" tag comes into play.

    Time to fold, Mr. Huntsman. It's a vanity campaign, now more than ever, and there are plenty of charities that could use that money you're throwing to your Beltway hustler campaigning friends.

  10. Anon is right -- it's hard to imagine that Huntsman has much of a chance to break out. There would probably be an appetite in the broader electorate for a libertarian-leaning moderate, but not in the GOP. Our party system is broken.


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