Is He Even Trying? Huntsman Seems Determined To Alienate the GOP Base

August 19, 2011 8:24 a.m.

“Call me crazy,” Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman tweeted Thursday. And from a strategic point of view, maybe he is.

The former Utah governor and Obama-appointed ambassador to China has appeared to take glee in poking the Republican base in recent days. Try to convince the base that his appointment by President Obama isn’t a fatal handicap? Nah, just mock the base instead.

Huntsman’s “Call me crazy” tweet was in response to two prominent blow-ups from Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Within the space of 28 hours he alleged that scientists were making up global warming for profit and had dismissed evolution as “a theory that’s out there.”

“To be clear,” Huntsman tweeted. “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”In terms of winning the nomination that probably is crazy. A Republican may not necessarily need to disbelieve in evolution or climate change to win the GOP nomination. But there’s a pretty strong argument that mocking people who do rules you out of contention.

Back in June, Rush Limbaugh, the Dalai Lama of modern-day conservatism, told his listeners that Mitt Romney could wave “bye-bye to the nomination” after the former Massachusetts Governor said he too trusted the scientific consensus on man-made global warming.

Romney had delivered his comments in a straight manner, rather than the brusque, almost mocking approach of Huntsman’s tweet. And the tweets only got stranger from there.

After a tweet suggesting the “call me crazy” line had attracted “lots of new followers,” Huntsman wrote, “I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more!” He then linked to a youtube video of “The Cap and his Magic Band playing their oh-so-conventional sound to a bunch of hip crowd members on a beach.” It seems a curiously inapt metaphor for his campaign.

On Friday Huntsman tapped into the anti-Tea Party story of the day once again, by referencing the former Delaware Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell. She, of course, had stormed off the set of a Piers Morgan interview on Wednesday night, after taking umbrage to Morgan’s line of questioning.

Huntsman, flagging that he too would be appearing on the show, sent out a tweet reading: @PiersMorgan – Looking forward to being on Monday’s show. Will try and have as much fun as @ChristineOD did”

To be fair, O’Donnell is less of a political third-rail these days. Her book sales have been anemic and the woman who pitched herself as “I am you” seems to be looking less and less like – well – anyone but her kooky self.

Still, deliberately prodding at Tea Party favorites just doesn’t seem a winning strategy for someone who’s serious about winning the nomination. As if just to rile up the Liberal Elite-hating base even further, Thursday also saw the release of a Vogue magazine profile of Huntsman, complete with photographs by Annie Leibowitz. The article was broadly favorable to the former Utah Governor, but to those like conservative commentator John Podheretz it came across as “the Plan 9 from Outer Space of political profiles.”

Passages that prompted that response include this one, where Huntsman makes a campaign appearance at a South Carolina diner:

“Surveying the motley crowd with an ironic expression, he begins, “All I can tell you is that I never thought I would be making an appearance at Mutt’s BBQ.”
The incongruity level rises as Huntsman makes his way around the dining room to shake hands. One of the state’s Tea Party leaders, Chris Lawton, asks what he knows about China’s setting up “secret free-trade zones” in the American West. Huntsman politely says he hasn’t heard anything about that and moves along. When an older gentleman in a veteran’s hat adorned with flag pins presses some religious literature into his hand, Huntsman thanks him, slips the pamphlet in the pocket of his crisp white shirt, and keeps going.”

Huntsman is acting like a man with nothing to lose — or one who has already lost. His campaign did not return a TPM email inquiring how the candidate’s new twitter style of prodding fun at core elements of the base was meant to be a winning campaign tactic.

Perhaps, though, the answer came in another tweet. The account @Jon2012girls purports to carry the thoughts of Huntsman’s daughters. Friday morning they posted this:

“Dad making a stir on twitter. Guess our gift “twitter for dummies” finally payed off!”

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