Thursday, June 09, 2011


This really is baffling to me:

Jon Huntsman is trying out a novel strategy: running for president without criticizing the incumbent by name.

Since returning from his post as ambassador to China last month, Huntsman has made scant mention of the man who appointed him in May 2009 -- President Barack Obama. And his would-be campaign officials say that won't change when the former Utah governor officially launches his campaign.

... the Republican is seeking the mantle of the civility candidate, and one of his top aides said the velvet hammer policy applies not only to Obama but to other GOP presidential hopefuls....

So I guess the guy is going to raise a buttload of money, tap into his own personal fortune, position himself prominently on the radar of everyone in the media, and then say ... absolutely nothing that would appeal to GOP primary voters. If you like Shakespeare, it's reminiscent of Cordelia being asked by her father, King Lear, what he can say to flatter her as he's divvying up his kingdom and replying, "Nothing." (After which she's disinherited and banished.) Or, if you prefer Seinfeld, it's reminiscent of Jerry and George landing a meeting to pitch their sitcom and utterly botching it. It's as if Huntsman is in that pitch meeting saying, "It's a campaign about nothing!"

Did I say "nothing"? Here's Dave Weigel commenting on an interview Huntsman did with National Review:

Ramesh Ponnuru's interview with Jon Huntsman is a marvel: Huntsman manages to remain completely unspecific about everything. Pakistan!
We have to be very, very careful about aid money going into Pakistan. It's a very, very difficult problem, and one where you could imagine someone like a Musharraf-type leader emerging once again.
Defense spending!
It's not just as simple as saying there are areas where we can cut, although if you look at a $650 billion budget, clearly there are some areas where we can make savings.
Whether we should set an economic growth target!
The market will do that... what a government should do is create the environment for growth.

What's his game?

The obvious answer is that he's running for vice president. But there's no way he's going to be on a ticket with fellow Mormon Mitt Romney, and, while it seems logical that a crazy person who wins the nomination might want a non-crazy running mate ("Like Reagan's Bush," as a commenter said here), the polls suggest that all the crazy candidates would lose badly to Obama. Do you want being on the wrong end of a blowout to be the lead item on your resume going into, oh, say, 2016? (Yeah, Palin's trying to run on precisely that, but 2008 wasn't really a blowout, and besides, she's crazy.)

The only way I can see that this makes sense as a possibly successful strategy is if Huntsman is hoping to pivot toward being a third-party/"third way"/No Labels/spirit-of-Broder candidate. This almost seems like the perfect way to build up to that -- except wouldn't you be expected to attack Obama a lot if you were going to do that, too?

Maybe he just thinks that four years from now we're all going to look back on this tea party/Fox/Koch moment as a bad dream, and he'll look like the only Republican who didn't go crazy back in the early Obama years. But I don't think we're just going to squeeze the crazy back into the tube, do you?

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