Douthat on Huntsman

Ross Douthat on Jon Hunstman:

his salesmanship has been staggeringly inept. Huntsman’s campaign was always destined to be hobbled by the two years he spent as President Obama’s ambassador to China. But he compounded the handicap by introducing himself to the Republican electorate with a series of symbolic jabs at the party’s base.

He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming — that were completely irrelevant to his candidacy’s rationale. He let his campaign manager define his candidacy as a fight to save the Republican Party from a “bunch of cranks.” And he embraced his identity as the media’s favorite Republican by letting the liberal journalist Jacob Weisberg write a fawning profile for Vogue.

The problem with this analysis is that it presupposes that Huntsman, a basically unknown figure on the national stage prior to the current contest, would have started off higher in the polls but for his “staggeringly inept” salesmanship.

However, the truth of the matter is that Huntsman was doomed from the start for two basic reasons:

1.  The aforementioned unknown-ness.  It is almost impossible to go from utter unknown to serious candidate (even Herman Cain at least had a small talk radio based following to use as a launching point).  Nobody knew who Huntsman was until he was nominated to be the US Ambassador to China (quick:  who’s the current governor of Utah?).

2.  He has no populist/Tea Party appeal.  Zero.

In short:  I reject Douthat’s thesis that Huntsman’s single-digit status is the result of “blunders” and “political malpractice.”  That Huntsman ever had a chance is pundit-based fantasy, especially amongst conservatives who want an intellectually respectable candidate to support.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming —

    The link goes to a chart that demonstrates how a political party that prides itself on ignorance can survive in today’s America.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    That Huntsman stands no chance tells you everything you need to know about the Republican party. Perhaps he was unknown…but to ignore him now in favor of Mitt and the Not-Mitts is telling.
    Please correct me if I’m worng…but didn’t Clinton come from a similar level of unknown-ed-ness? Quick…who’s the Governor of Arkansas?

  3. @Hey Norm: Point taken about the governor of Arkansas.

    However, Clinton was a different animal than is Huntsman. To wit: Clinton was considered an up-and-comer in Democratic Party politics in the early 1990s because of his affiliation with the Democratic Leadership Council. He was not thought to a serious contender prior to the 1992 election, but was (even at the time) thought of as a potential post-Bush candidate. Clinton was in Triple A ball for the Dems prior to 1992. Huntsman barely rated as single A going into the 2012 cycle.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    @ SLT…
    Thanks for clearing that up.
    Huntsman might be better off changing parties in ’16. A couple tweaks to his positions and I think he could appeal to a large segment of Democrats. As the GOP continues to sprint further and further toward the outskirts of reality moderates like Huntsman aren’t really going to have much of a choice.

  5. Neil Hudelson says:

    He picked high-profile fights on two hot-button issues — evolution and global warming

    .His entire “fight picking” was to state he trusts 99.9% of all climate scientists who say climate change is real and it’s largely due to human causes.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    Douhat said something silly. Other news flashes today: the sky is blue and dogs sometimes bite men.

  7. reid says:

    I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that Huntsman really is very conservative, too. But just the fact that he’s not insane about things like evolution doesn’t mean he isn’t otherwise conservative. Calling him a moderate may not be correct.

  8. @reid: I think this is largely true.

  9. Linton says:

    @ Hey Norm: Mike Beebe is the governor of Arkansas. He’s my governor, and one of the dying breed of southern Democratic governors. The legacy of the Pryor/Bumpers/Clinton Dem still looms here, but less so with the significant gains the GOP made in 2010. We had Huck but his time as governor helped his career more than his party.