Never before in the history of the Western world has the vast gulf between the level of national media coverage received and the level of national media coverage deserved been wider for a political candidate than for Jon Huntsman Jr.
Bigfoot journalists, respected political analysts, news anchors, and everyone else under the sun have breathlessly anointed the former U.S. ambassador to China and twice-elected former governor of Utah as a first-tier candidate, the “strongest possible Republican nominee” to challenge President Obama, and, as Time’s Mark Halperin said, “as good a retail politician as George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.”
You cannot possibly overstate the level of overstatement.
Pardon me for interrupting the universal, collective golf clap from the chattering class, but does Mr. Huntsman have a path to the Republican nomination?
Of course not. In fact, no one has even bothered to ask if there is one.
Let me point out this simple yet inconvenient fact: In order to defeat President Obama, you must first win the Republican nomination. If you have no path to do that, you deserve the same level of coverage as Buddy Roemer.
Let’s examine what Huntsman has recently said and done and what that means for his “first-tier” primary campaign:
‐ He said he would not run in Iowa, so he won’t win there. 0–1.
‐ The Suffolk University poll of likely New Hampshire voters released June 28 had Huntsman at 4 percent, behind Bachmann, Ron Paul, and possible candidate Rudy Giuliani. Part-time New Hampshire resident Mitt Romney had 36 percent and he will do whatever it takes to win there. This means Huntsman will be 0–2.
‐ Evangelical South Carolina is unlikely to elect a Mormon as the winner of its primary. Southern candidates like possible candidate Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain, or Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, are likely to win there. Huntsman is 0–3.
‐ He will then stake his claim in Nevada, where all recent polls have shown Romney with a commanding lead, although no public poll has included Huntsman yet. Romney is the overwhelming favorite in Nevada. You guessed it, 0–4.
‐ Fear not, Florida awaits. His campaign is headquartered there (for the most defensible reason that his wife’s parents are from there), so surely that will deliver the state to him. And waiting to win your first primary in Florida worked so well for Rudy Giuliani in 2008.
It gets worse.
Huntsman remains the only candidate to openly oppose signing a pledge to pass a Cut, Cap, Balance plan, angering the 84 outside conservative groups and the 126 Tea Party organizations pushing the pledge, and causing the influential Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) to say he cannot support Huntsman in 2012. New entrant Bachmann has said she is considering it. All six other serious candidates have signed it.
Huntsman also made the curious admission to the New Hampshire Union Leader, the state’s largest and most influential newspaper, that “he has yet to formulate a comprehensive economic policy.” Rather important in an election in which the economy is the No. 1 issue.
Owing to some of his ideological views, Huntsman has additional problems with the Republican primary electorate.
Social conservatives believe in traditional marriage, and these voters have outsize influence in the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. Huntsman’s record demonstrates his support for civil unions. In fact, as Politico reported, he’s raising money off of it. The vice chair of the California Log Cabin Republicans recently sent an e-mail fundraising solicitation, which the Huntsman campaign confirmed, that called attention to Huntsman’s record of signing “into law Utah’s first Civil Unions legislation” and reaching out to the LGBT community, promising that Huntsman would run a “fully inclusive campaign.” While the gay-marriage movement won a significant political victory in New York last week, support for it is not a winning political position in a Republican primary.
The Republican base is angry at the incumbent president, and they turned out in the 2010 midterms to display their disaffection with the Obama administration. While some of that anger has subsided, it lingers among the base, and Republican-primary voters do not want a candidate calling for “civility” who left the governor’s office just after winning reelection to serve in Obama’s administration in one of the most significant diplomatic posts in the world. They want a candidate who will go at Obama directly, as Michele Bachmann has, and as they suspect Rick Perry will.
Huntsman has also been a moderate on the issue of climate change. In 2007, while governor of Utah, Huntsman brought the state into the Western Climate Initiative, a regional cap-and-trade program. No issue better unites Republicans in Congress than opposition to cap and trade, which then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed in the House and which Obama tried to institute through an executive order when he couldn’t get it through the Senate. And even when Huntsman was ambassador to China, he repeatedly called for action on climate change, which he has refused to say is not caused by man. When Romney said something similar, influential radio-talk-show host Rush Limbaugh pronounced his campaign dead on arrival.
Conservative activists, Tea Party supporters, and Republican-primary voters want a reliable conservative candidate, not an undeniable moderate. They can tell that Huntsman is the latter — in fact, he isn’t even hiding it.
The cruel reality is that Huntsman is a fully media-generated candidate, with no real base of support, no record of achievement in nationally important conservative causes, and little work in party building.
Huntsman is a very interesting and impressive person and if he’s on Charlie Rose, I’ll watch for the full hour. He has an exemplary record of public service, twice serving as U.S. ambassador in Asia, working in the Reagan White House, serving in the George W. Bush administration as the deputy trade representative, and winning two statewide elections in the reddest state in the country. He deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his patriotism, selflessness, and skill. I do not wish him ill, nor do I begrudge his campaign team, some of whom I know personally and respect.
But he will not be the Republican nominee.
As a final illustration of how absurd the Huntsman coverage has been, his meticulously planned announcement event, coinciding with dozens of profile stories, TV interviews, and a New York Times magazine profile, and mystifyingly held in a state park in New Jersey in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, drew less than 100 voters — and over 100 credentialed media. A 1:1 ratio of voters to media is unprecedented. Two months ago, Herman Cain had 12,000 people attend his announcement in Atlanta, and he is now polling third nationally. Guess who earned more coverage?
Can we all now agree to stop the profile stories, stop the courtship, stop the over-worn praise of his “civility” and impressive worldliness? He might have been the Republican nominee if this were 1948. We are in a different era now.
— Matt Mackowiak is a Washington- and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. He has been an adviser to two U.S. senators and one governor, and has worked on two winning campaigns.
editor’s note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.