Alex Massie

Huntsman 2012: The Wrong Guy in the Wrong Race

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The most important thing about Jon Huntsman is that he's a much better general election candidate than he is a contender for the Republican party's nomination. His job is to persuade the Republican electorate that even if they don't much like him or can't be quite sure they can trust him, he's the guy with the best chance of turfing Barack Obama from the White House. His message: Settle for me! It almost worked for John Kerry!

That's a tricky proposition given that Huntsman was happy to serve in the Obama administration. It's also a problem given his minimal name recognition, the fact he comes from a small state and that, yup, there's already a Mormon ex-governor in the race. Oh, and it's not obvious he believes the same things as the voters who will decide this race do. Apart from that, I like his chances fine.

A friend has been trying to persuade me that Huntsman can be Clinton circa 1992: "a moderate running against his party's base" since "when the anger abates serious people want a winner." I think this is thin gruel, not least since Huntsman has been forced to "endorse" Paul Ryan's budget "plan" to establish his "conservative" credentials but to the extent it is true it reinforces my point that Huntsman is running a He'll Do campaign in which his main rival is Tim Pawlenty. At present it seems that Huntsman's support is largely confined to Wall Street and McLean, Virginia. These are important constituencies but making David Brooks swoon is an insufficient condition for winning the Republican nomination.

Where does Huntsman win? Not in Iowa and not in South Carolina either. Which means he must run Romney close (or win!) in New Hampshire. This could happen, though the GOP field is cluttered with Concord-or-Bust candidates including Ron Paul, Gary Johnson and Herman Cain and the anti-Romney vote (always considerable!) is liable to shared by several candidates.

So, yes, Huntsman will continue to get a good press (hiring John Weaver, John McCain's image-guy/strategist was a smart move) and that press won't be enough. Nor will many people vote for Huntsman because of his foreign policy credentials: as Spencer Ackerman says, being a diplomat don't give you much suction or juice these days. Anyway, when the C-word comes up we know that Huntsman is going to say something sensible about how America shouldn't be too worried too soon by too much of anything that China might do. Most of the other "leading" contenders will advise Americans to press the panic button and this, I am afraid, will be more effective than anything Huntsman can say. Foreign polict doesn't matter much anyway but to the extent it does it's likely to be a handicap for Huntsman which is just another reason why he's a Beltway candidate, not a national figure.

But perhaps he can change that. It wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to the Republican party if he were able to surprise us all. But absent all that one can't help but wonder if he is "really" running for the Vice-Presidency or as a marker for 2016.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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