30 November 2011

The Long Strange Trip of Candidate Jon Huntsman

L. Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT) R. SNL's Seth Meyers

Former Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R-UT) has blazed an idiosyncratic path to the Republican nomination for President.  Although Huntsman had been re-elected Governor of the Beehive State in 2004 with a 78% margin, he is better known for his diplomatic credentials.  Huntsman had been the Ambassador to Singapore in the President George HW Bush Administration (Bush 41) and as U.S. Trade Representative in the President George W. Bush Adminsitration (Bush 43).  But Huntsman infamously ditched the Utah Governor’s Mansion soon after his second term began to become President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to China. Generally, career diplomats are unlikely U.S. Presidential candidates, especially when their last posting was with an incumbent of the opposite party but “Jon” does not fancy himself as a typical politician

Huntsman entered the GOP Presidential race relatively late in mid-June. He might have thought that he could afford to be late since he is the son of billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr. and that he is personally worth between $16 to $71 million.  But  Huntsman also made his announcement late by insisted on highlighting his quirky credentials by showing a Meet Jon Huntsman promo video which hogged his time in the spotlight.  By the time Huntsman got around to launching his candidacy, major news organizations had stopped covering the event live and rushed back to hear indistinct drivel.

Perhaps it may seem picayune but Huntsman’s campaign launch was marred by two infamous flaws.  Firstly, the press pass for the event misspelt the candidate’s name as “John Huntman”.  The staffers ought to know better as their website is “Jon2012.com”.  The other flub was positioning of the podium.  Huntsman deliberately went to Liberty State Park as he studiously sought to capture the same optics that Ronald Reagan used to launch his 1980 race for the White House.   The positioning of the dais and the press podium wasted the opportunity, especially with cable news crews which inform most of the electorate today.  Maybe the press did not want to show the turnout of “dozens” of supporters at the rally.

Still the Lamestream Media kvelled over Huntsman’s candidacy, as there was a moderate Republican in the race, especially one who served under President Obama.  Huntsman committed himself to a campaign of civility, where he would neither run down his Republican opponents nor his former boss and eventual opponent President Obama. That mimiced the media meme about civility in the period after the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ 8th).  It seems implausible to run a campaign without distinguishing yourselves against opponents, much less speak their name like Voldemort.  Of course, Huntman's non critical promise lasted as long as Democrats practice of civility against their political opponents.

Huntsman also made an unorthodox choice to base his national Headquarters in Orlando, Florida since his wife was from the area and Florida is a must win state.  Looking at the latest polls, Huntsman position in the Sunshine State is less than the margin of error.  Oops.

Huntsman also revealed a sui generis strategy to win the Republican nomination as he wanted to appeal to non-Republicans.   That’s novel but unlikely to win over dyed in the wool Republican primary voters, except perhaps in New Hampshire which has many independent and cross over primary voters.  Hence this might explain Huntsman playing the fool on Saturday Night Live.


Of course appearances in NBC Studio 8A worked out so well for Senator John McCain’s (R-AZ) quest for the White House.  But Huntsman’s stabs at humor probably work better on SNL than sniping at Gov. Mitt Romney’s book as a Kurt Cobain reference during a debate–that was not Nirvana.

Huntsman has revealed that he is a Deadhead.  So is former Vice President Al Gore.  Huntsman must think that by identifying with Jerry and the band reminds voters of his dropping out of high school to join a rock band.  Dude, what are you thinking?  This is a GOP nomination process.

Huntsman has not been shy in using his three daughters as surrogates for the campaign.  The parody of the Smokin’ Cain campaign ad was quite funny. It raised some campaign funds but no real raise in the polls.

But politics is a full contact sport and once Huntsman can prove that he is no longer a “margin of error” candidate, the press has declared families fair game, particularly when they have entered the arena.

Unless Huntsman can pull off a miracle and wrangle the top spot in the New Hampshire primary from Gov, Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Huntsman seems to be positioning himself as a third party candidate.  Considering his appeal to moderates, it is more likely that a quixotic independent candidacy would appeal to donkeys more than pachyderms or agitated independent voters.

It’s been a long strange trip  for the Jon Huntsman campaign.  Whether it ends in the snows of the Granite State or in a costly independent vanity race, it is likely that he will be singing the U.S. Blues.

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