23 June 2011

Huntsman's Primary Strategy: Operation Chaos Redux

Casual political observers may have the impression that the 2008 Democrat Presidential Primaries were a cakewalk for then Illinois Senator  Barack Obama (D-IL). But in all actuality, the race for delegates was close until the later contests in April.  In sharp contrast, the Republican race had been all but settled in late January, when Senator John McCain (R-AZ) became the presumptive GOP nominee.

In early February 2008, Talk Radio Titan Rush Limbaugh, sensed discontent amongst Reagan Democrats (the type that candidate Obama caricatured sotto voce as bitter bible clinging gun owners) for Obama, with whom the lamestream media was infatuated.  So for the Pennsylvania Primary, Limbaugh promoted an idea of “Operation Chaos” where conservatives would reregister as Keystone Democrats for the expressed purpose of supporting then Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and make the Democrat convention in Denver interesting.  As it turned out, Clinton scored a convincing victory in Pennsylvania, but it could not overcome her deficit in pledged candidates to win the nomination.

In some respects, this cross-over tactic is nothing new, but usually this is a sub rosa dirty trick instigated by partisans of a campaign. Limbaugh’s Operation Chaos was exceptional for being overt and not directly helping the eventual opposition (namely McCain).

So it is stunning to hear Jon Huntsman so blithely reveal that his primary Presidential campaign strategy is to appeal to non-Republicans.  Huntsman is wisely skipping the Iowa Caucuses, which requires costly organization and Huntsman would have a tough time appealing to conservative evangelicals who are motivated to participate.  Huntsman thinks that he can go head to head with Romney in New Hampshire, and he is banking on having a large cross over constituency with registered Independents.  If Huntsman can catch Granite State momentum, he hopes to score in South Carolina, with crossover Democrats who do not have a primary contest.  Finally, Huntsman hopes to wrap it up in Florida, where he has based his campaign.

It is an interesting strategy, but it may be too clever by half. Considering that 40% of New Hampshire voters are registered Independents and the historic involvement of the electorate in the First Primary State, it is not unreasonable to think that Huntsman has a fighting chance in the Granite State. But motivating organizing and getting out the vote of legions of crossover Democrat voters in the South Carolina Republican primary is a tough row to hoe.   Certainly, Florida will be a key state in the 2012 election. But it is dubious if it will have the same sway as it did in 2008, when former Governor Charlie Crist’s  (R-I-?  FL) last minute endorsement of John McCain influenced the electorate.  The Florida primary is later this time, the delegates will actually count and candidates will vigorously compete there this cycle.

There is some question as to Huntsman’s motivations for running.  Huntsman refuses to criticize President Barack Obama, his former boss, by name.  Huntsman’s gushing letter citing Obama as an extraordinary leader raises real questions about his candidacy.

Granted, Huntsman’s Obama admiring, accommodation on illegal immigration, climate change supporter, pro-civil union stance and serving as Ambassador to China in the Obama Administration will lend credence to the impression that he is a RINO.  But Huntsman can’t be the Manchurian Candidate, since  Raymond Shaw was an interesting character.

While Huntsman’s moderate policy positions are not personally appealing, it is commendable to have another choice for the Republican nomination.  But by basing his primary campaign support on cross-over support, Huntsman is enshrining a sure fire way to alienate the base, which ought to be crawling over broken glass to get to the polls to unseat Obama in November, 2012.

Now is not the time for Operation Chaos Redux.  If Huntsman is willing to spend his family fortune, he need not raise outside money for his Presidential campaign.  But if Huntsman is intent on being a spoiler in this election cycle he ought to invest in qualifying for the ballot for the general election à la Perot in 1992.

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