Jon Huntsman entered the Republican presidential race claiming to be the champion of the party’s moderate-conservative wing. But, despite the applause of some elite figures like George Will and flattering press coverage from liberal media such as the New York Times and, more recently, Vogue, the main focus of Huntsman’s campaign has been his animus for virtually everyone else in his party.
The former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador to China has been reluctant to criticize the Democratic incumbent too harshly, but it has been readily apparent the people he really doesn’t like are his GOP rivals. Huntsman’s alienation from the rest of his party was apparent at the Iowa debate earlier this month when he looked uncomfortable and had trouble making any points other than attacks on the other candidates. His man-without-a-party routine continued over the weekend when he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” program aiming his fire at other Republicans.
Huntsman claimed the other Republicans in the race are “unelectable.” Only time will tell whether he is right about them, but it’s hard to understand why a man whose only electoral experience is in winning the governorship of a small ultra-Republican state can claim to be better equipped at winning elections than rivals who have won races in ultra-blue Massachusetts (Romney) and Minnesota (Bachmann) and in Texas (Perry), the second most populous state in the union.
Huntsman’s supposed strategy is to concentrate on New Hampshire, a state where independents and Democrats may vote in the GOP primary. It’s far from clear that anyone, even a candidate who won a lot of those non-Republican votes, can possibly take that state from Romney. But even if we assume Huntsman could somehow overcome his miniscule poll ratings, farcically disorganized campaign and utter lack of a connection to any Republican constituency to produce a respectable finish in the Granite State, that still doesn’t explain how he can possibly hope to win anywhere else or make a dent in a nominating race that obligates candidates to garner some support from their own party’s rank and file. Nor does it make sense to think a man can ridicule his own party, as Huntsman did on “This Week” with his comments about evolution and global warming and hope to gain sympathy from anyone but Democrats. In fact, that is the only constituency he seems to be scoring points with these days. As Politico noted yesterday, Huntsman’s comments on “This Week” were circulated by the Democratic National Committee.
Huntsman was once thought of as someone with a big future in the GOP, and he might well have survived his controversial decision to serve as Obama’s envoy to China had he waited longer before running for national office or chosen not to concentrate his fire on fellow Republicans. But though he will continue to travel the country spending his father’s money on a pointless campaign, it must now be understood that Huntsman not only has no chance of being the Republican nominee in 2012 or any other year but just as little prospect of ever serving in the administration of any of his rivals. Indeed, the only possibility of future employment in the government for him at this point is in a second Obama administration. That is, if the president wants him back.