Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) has a central problem in the GOP primary: There is no evidence of any grass-roots support for his run. The Public Policy Polling outfit found a single Huntsman voter in Iowa. And that guy doesn’t seem to be much of a Republican (“he would vote for Romney over Obama, but he would vote for Obama if the GOP nominee was Palin or Cain. He’s undecided about match ups between Obama and Gingrich or Pawlenty”).
Huntsman’s is a candidacy cooked up by consultants (in this case, primarily John Weaver), who are happy to convince the candidate that he is just what the party needs and then to collect handsome fees until the candidate realizes this isn’t true.
It is easy to spot a campaign built on nothing but the desire to run. For one thing, the candidate has nothing much to say. Huntsman’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today makes this clear. At times it is unintentionally funny:
I admire Congressman Paul Ryan’s honest attempt to save Medicare. Those who disagree with his approach incur a moral responsibility to propose reforms that would ensure Medicare’s ability to meet its responsibilities to retirees without imposing an unaffordable tax burden on future generations of Americans.
Umm, but what does he think? He’s careful not to endorse Ryan’s plan or to offer his own. No doubt the consultants told him it was better this way.
The rest of the piece appears to have been written with the help of “100 Cliches for Conservative Candidates.” We get bromides such as his call for “sweeping reforms of our tax code, regulatory policies and other government policies to improve our productivity, competitiveness and job creation.” Who knew? No details. Then, hold on to your hats, there is this pearl: “We also need to pursue, as aggressively as other countries do, free trade agreements.” Why do Republicans need this guy, if everything he offers is contained within more interesting and original proposals of the other contenders?
The only original, animating idea is Huntsman’s own desire to be president. In essence, it’s an upscale version of the Sarah Palin bikers’ campaign. She sees no need to propound serious policy proposals. The campaign, or the non-campaign or whatever it is, is about her. And so too with Huntsman, who apparently is convinced (after an impressive sales job from Weaver and others) that the country is pining for Obama’s former ambassador to China and an ardent implementer of a state cap-and-trade plan.
UPDATE (11:40 a.m.): An indignant aide to Huntsman, Matt David, e-mailed, “Did u miss him say he’s sign it on gma two weeks ago...old news.” He is referring to an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” in which, among other things, Huntsman defended his receipt of stimulus money and said he would sign the Ryan Medicare plan. I asked David why he couched his position more carefully in the Wall Street Journal op-ed. He brushed off the question, and replied, “He’s said the same thing everywhere and to everyone.” (That Ryan is a swell guy?) He e-mailed yet again to insist: “He also called Paul Ryan one of his current political heros [sic] to RealClearPolitics.” We can posit that, since the ABC interview, Huntsman has gotten nervous about explicitly endorsing Ryan’s Medicare plan (as opposed to praising its author). Perhaps the op-ed was, as these things often are, a piece fly-specked by consultants to say as little as possible.
Note: In the original version David’s quotes were inadvertently reversed.