Ross Douthat on Jon Huntsman Jr.

Ross gets at the heart of the Huntsman problem:

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.

This was political malpractice at its worst. Voters don’t necessarily need to like a candidate to vote for him, but they need to think that he likes them. Imagine a contender for the Democratic nomination introducing himself to liberal voters by attacking Planned Parenthood, distancing himself from “left-wing nutjobs” and giving a series of interviews on Fox News, and you have the flavor of how Huntsman’s opening act was perceived on the right. The substance mattered less than the symbolism, which screamed: I want your vote, but I don’t particularly care to be associated with your stupidities.

To return to Jonathan Haidt’s framework, liberals are driven by a strong belief in fairness and preventing harm. Conservatives are driven to a lesser degree by a strong belief in fairness and preventing harm and to a much greater degree by loyalty and respect for authority. This could be why liberals are often drawn to instinctive contrarians (“mavericks”) while conservatives (who think of “mavericks” as “opportunists”) are not. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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