Jon Huntsman is a political hand grenade. He'll explode at least once during the course of the Republican race for the presidential nomination. He's trying to run a campaign that appeals to many types of voters, but it has a feel of being intellectually and politically disorganized. And more importantly, the Huntsman campaign is positioned to do the most damage to the most number of Republican candidates.
What makes his campaign so bizarre?
If one considers the Huntsman campaign as a political statement, it's a garbled mess from a Republican perspective. And that's a best case scenario. The worst case scenario is that the campaign only exists as a vanity affair, or as a stumbling block. Consider his problems:
- He doesn't have a clear message.
- He views his campaign as a coalition building campaign, when it generates no interest.
- He seems to spend more time attacking, rather than building.
Huntsman considers environmental conservation as a conservative issue. Good on him. But attacking people who question the science on climate change is a far left position. Reasonable people on both sides of the argument question the science. One would be stupid not to question after the "Climate Gate" scandal. Taking that position ahead of the Ames Iowa Straw Poll, it could be argued that he's not even a serious candidate.
One of Huntsman's recurring themes is building coalitions. In recent remarks to young Republicans, Huntsman insisted that his campaign could build coalitions. Many commented that he wasn't very impressive and they weren't inspired. Building a coalition means bringing people together for a common cause. If nobody is listening, and nobody is following, one can't build a coalition.
Also, it's hard to build coalitions when one is attacking other candidates relentlessly. His latest bashing was on Mitt Romney about the debt ceiling debate, but that isn't the biggest threat he poses to Romney. Huntsman also sees the far right candidates as enemies, so they are no doubt potential foils for him rhetorically.
If the guy has no chance, why pay attention?
Jon Huntsman has the ability to poison the Republican primaries in several ways. The first is to bring his radical left ideas into the debate. Republicans are going to face those ideas in a general election. If he introduces them in the primaries, he validates what might otherwise be invalid points.
He's a serious menace to Mitt Romney. Other candidates are dancing around the religion issue. Huntsman has already done the obligatory plea to ignore religion in the campaign. But as a Mormon himself, Huntsman can attack Romney on ethical issues from a Mormon perspective. Worse yet, he can split the Mormon vote in places like Utah and Nevada, depriving Romney of wins in those states.
And he can also leave other Republicans damaged with attacks along the way. President Obama's campaign is taking notes and using Huntsman as a probe to find weakness in potential challengers. Whatever Huntsman says can, and likely will, be used against Republicans later.
So what happens with him?
Republicans need to run Jon Huntsman out of the campaign as quickly as possible. Of course he can use his wealth to stay in the race as long as he likes. But the best course for mainstream Republicans is to marginalize him as quickly as possible. If they don't, they'll regret keeping him around in the general election.
Do you support the Huntsman campaign?