The Spectacle Blog

Huntsman: A Missed Opportunity

By on 11.30.11 | 2:58PM

After suggesting that Jon Hunstman, not Newt Gingrich, is the most conservative GOP hopeful electable, Ross Douthat recaps Huntsman's missteps: 

But his salesmanship has been staggeringly inept. Huntsman's campaign was always destined to be hobbled by the two years he spent as President Obama's ambassador to China. But he compounded the handicap by introducing himself to the Republican electorate with a series of symbolic jabs at the party's base.

He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues - evolution and global warming - that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy's rationale. He let his campaign manager define his candidacy as a fight to save the Republican Party from a "bunch of cranks." And he embraced his identity as the media's favorite Republican by letting the liberal journalist Jacob Weisberg write a fawning profile for Vogue.

This was political malpractice at its worst. Voters don't necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them. Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from "left-wing nutjobs" and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman's opening act was perceived on the right. The substance mattered less than the symbolism, which screamed: I want your vote, but I don't particularly care to be associated with your stupidities.

In general Huntsman's campaign has been tailored to the media and policy experts, not to primary voters. Just this week, Huntsman unveiled a bold, conservative, and realistic plan for unwinding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. As with others of Huntsman's attempts to present an exciting platform, somehow the call to end Feddie and Frannie went virtually unnoticed -- despite the fact that the two GSEs are among the biggest bogeymen for conservatives. 

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