Sandown, N.H. — In a presidential-primary race boasting not one but two stiff and plasticky multimillionaire Mormon Republican ex-governors, Jon Huntsman has hit upon an oddball strategy: He’s going to be the cool stiff and plasticky multimillionaire Mormon Republican ex-governor — the Harley-straddling, “more spiritual than religious,” Dream Theater–loving, keyboard-playing, moderate rock star of our dreams. Whose dreams, exactly? That’s an awkward question: Outlaw bikers call themselves “1 percenters,” and September’s Gallup numbers had the motorcycle-loving Governor Huntsman a 1 percenter, too — dead last in the affections of Republican primary voters, with one-thirteenth the support of atavistic Robert Taft impersonator Ron Paul and half the support of idealistic no-hoper Rick Santorum. He’s serving up Morningstar Farms veggie burgers to a Republican electorate ravenous for raw red meat. It’s an Us-and-Them election, and Huntsman, a former envoy to China, is positioning himself as Republican ambassador to Them.
“We’re going to need a lot of independents on board if we’re going to win in 2012,” Huntsman says. “I think I’m the only candidate in the race that can really reach out to them.” Huntsman is not the only one who thinks that. “Out of all the candidates out there, Jon Huntsman is the only one who really scares me,” a Democratic lobbyist tells me. “Independents, moderates, white suburban voters, women — he can appeal to them in a way that Rick Perry can’t.” That’s the kind of endorsement Huntsman would like: He’s the presentable one, the one who can win. Which would probably be true if the Republican primary electorate had anything much in common with Democratic lobbyists and the self-appointed everymen of the New York Times. The paper of alleged record takes Huntsman so seriously that it once headlined a piece about him: “Why Huntsman Should Be Taken Seriously.” (Seriously.) The Times has even floated a little conspiracy theory, popular in political circles, that the Obama administration appointed Huntsman ambassador to China because it would cripple him as a presidential candidate. It has, at the very least, hobbled him — a fact of which Republicans should not be proud.