The big news this week is that the long-awaited and art-film teased Jon Huntsman campaign finally got off the ground, with the newly-declared candidate making an appearance in New Jersey, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, because, well... because Reagan once did it? Most of the reviews features descriptors that ranged from tepid to anti-climactic (perhaps motorcycle stunts were anticipated?) to confused. Here's Walter Shapiro at The New Republic:
While the pyrotechnics accompanying the presidential rollout were impressive (two dozen TV cameras chronicled a GOP candidate hovering at 1 percent in the national polls), Huntsman's words themselves were flickering sparklers rather than skyrocketing Roman candles. The former two-term Utah governor repeatedly resorted to the well-crafted banalities that speechwriters use in place of original thought. Calling for "leadership that knows we need answers," Huntsman boldly declared, "We can and will own the future." In an era of persistent 9-percent unemployment, Huntsman confided a revelation that came to him only because he held elective office: "I learned something very important as governor. For most American families, there is nothing more important than a job."
The reason for dwelling on Huntsman's anodyne rhetoric is because his presidential campaign remains curiously inchoate. I am perplexed whether there is more -- or less -- to Huntsman's political persona than meets the eye.
Lots of questions remain with Huntsman, and a lot center on style. Did the Huntsman campaign realize how hackneyed a roll-out in front of the Statue of Liberty looks? What we know of this campaign so far is, there's no way of knowing if they intend to be conventional or if they're offering some kind of meta-commentary on conventionality. Surely this campaign exists, at least in part, as a rebuke to the conventional wisdom that says he can't win in the 2012 environment.
Right out of the gates, he's considered a media darling, but the media tends to love a candidate who's nice to them while not posing much of a serious threat to win the nomination. Speaking of, the trendy thing to say about Huntsman is that he's running in John McCain's footsteps. (I guess that means he'll win New Hampshire, get victimized by racially-coded dirty tricks in South Carolina and be positioned for a shot at redemption in another election cycle?)
There's also a specter of religious prejudice that hangs over Huntsman's campaign. Like Mitt Romney, Huntsman is a Mormon, and this week, a Gallup poll found that one-in-five Americans were uncomfortable voting for a Mormon in a presidential election. There's plenty to lament in those results, if you've a mind for being fair.
But Huntsman and Romney aren't really in the race for Mormon votes -- they're actually both in a larger race for the votes of people who prefer a "sane and reasonable" candidate to a red-meat scorching conservative firebrand. They're both on the hunt for those voters who like their candidates "electable."
To that end, Huntsman has made a promise to be a Boy Scout during this race. In large part, it's how he's going to deal with the fact that he worked in the Obama administration and seemed to enjoy it. But that promise will also govern how he copes with the field.
"I don't think you need to run down somebody's reputation in order to run for the office of president," Huntsman said. And in a fine example of where our insane standard for credibility is at the moment, his pledge was declared a dead letter after Huntsman offered some painfully mild criticism of Mitt Romney: "If you're talking about free market health care -- the kind we did in Utah and the kind that is needed in this country -- then [Romney] has little credibility."
Oh, dear! Call out the scolds!
Meanwhile, others have decided to take up the "Get Mitt" cause. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum both went after Romney for refusing to sign a pro-life pledge -- Santorum managed to catch Huntsman up in his critique as well, despite Huntsman's generally standard-issue pro-life legislative record. And even Tim Pawlenty -- recognizing that he made a terrible mistake by passing on the chance to criticize Romney to his face -- found the courage to renew his attacks on the frontrunner during times he wasn't standing nearby.
Outside of that, there was plenty to chew on from another week on the campaign trail. Matt Taibbi may have inadvertently boosted Bachmann's stock with a Rolling Stone story that was sloppily sourced. Herman Cain indulged himself in some "blame the media" hissy fits. Ron Paul came out for marijuana legalization. Buddy Roemer bit the hands that feed his party. President Barack Obama punted away an opportunity to make a difference to some of his core constituents -- twice. And Newt Gingrich? After hitting rock bottom, the master of denial has decided he's going to grab a shovel.
For all of this and more, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of June 24, 2011.