What do you make of the new hard-hittin’, tough-tweetin’ Jon Huntsman? We ran a piece on Friday asking whether the former Utah governor and Obama-appointed ambassador to China was even trying to win the nomination any more. Since then numerous emails have come in from readers who think he’s making a long play for the nomination in 2016.
That’s certainly a reasonable view. However, it’s possible there’s something else at work here, too.
The Republican establishment is faced with something of a quandary right now. Even just a few months ago, the big money and major power-brokers thought 2012 was going to be unwinnable. It was widely believed that the economy would slowly pick up, and by November of next year President Obama would be able to take the credit for that and walk to re-election.
This likely prompted the more credible GOP candidates, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to decide to sit out the coming election and wait for 2016. By and large the GOP establishment seemed happy enough to send out the political equivalent of cannon-fodder that would be torn apart in the No Man’s Land of 2012.
However, the sudden threat of a double-dip recession means this election suddenly looks winnable for the Republicans… But only if they have the right candidate. Poll after poll shows that despite President Obama’s sinking numbers he still fares well against virtually all his major GOP opponents.
Presumably this is maddening for the Republican establishment. All of a sudden what they need is a moderate savior who’s not tarnished by either extreme flip-flopping or by outrageous statements against, say, the Federal Reserve and the scientific process. Hence the current conservative calls in some quarters for Rep. Paul Ryan and the brief flutter earlier this week over rumors of a Christie run.
This must be infuriating for Huntsman; as far as he must be concerned, the party already has its moderate savior and he’s already in the race. Indeed, it’s him.
But the problem Huntsman faces is exactly that he is already in the race. Unlike Christie or Ryan there are now real polls for Huntsman, and they show him failing to catch alight.
If he was entering the fray right now he’d figuratively be wearing a halo and would be suffused by a glowing ethereal light while angels flutter around him, plucking away at harps.
But the nature of the nominating process meant that in order to get a viable campaign on the ground, he had to enter a few months ago, before there was this great GOP thirst for a candidate just like him. Having gotten in at that stage, now the numbers are in as well, and the power-brokers can dismiss him while casting their eyes around for a candidate whose halo has not been tarnished by the grime of poor poll numbers.
That could well be the significance behind this new combative Huntsman; he’s indicating to the types of people pining after Christie or Ryan — and lamenting that they don’t have much time to set up a campaign on the ground — that there is already an Independent-friendly candidate right under their noses. These new moves are intended to reboot his campaign into Huntsman 2.0. At the very least it should guarantee he at least gets asked some proper questions in the next GOP debate. It’s a tough strategy as it does indeed involve alienating the Tea Party-leaning sections of the base. But right now it seems the only strategy that’s left.