A big wet kiss
As humorist Finley Peter Dunne observed roughly a century ago, “Politics ain’t beanbag.” That’s an apt way to analyze the ambush that was staged on Friday against prospective White House hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr.Some of the most important primary season politicking takes place long before the primary votes are tallied. In the early jockeying for position, sometimes people get cut off at the knees. This appears to be one of those times. Someone under the cloak of anonymity has tried to whack out Huntsman – the former Republican governor of Utah and current U.S. ambassador to China – before he even gets a chance to stretch his legs. As whodunits go, this would never rank with Agatha Christie’s, but today it’s easily worth 900 words.On Friday, The Daily Caller, an ascendent conservative website, published two letters authored by Huntsman in August ’09. The first dispatch was a big wet kiss to Bill Clinton. More importantly, the second dispatch was a big wet kiss to Barack Obama It doesn’t take a genius to understand the import of this Daily Caller scoop. Someone with access to the letters thought it would be wise to torpedo Hunstman’s nascent pre-candidacy (he’s resigning his ambassadorial post at the end of this month) by signaling to grassroots conservatives that this guy can’t be trusted,, given his recent record of consorting with the enemy. Worse yet, he appears to have been slobbering with the enemy.”You are a remarkable leader,” Huntsman wrote Obama, reportedly stressing the italicized word. That line probably won’t go over too well with conservative primary voters who view Obama as a Kenyan Muslim socialist foe of all that is red, white, and blue.”I have enormous regard for your experience, sense of history, and brilliant analysis of world events,” Huntsman wrote Clinton. Hunstman in the same letter also praised spouse Hillary as “well-read, hard-working, personable,” with “even more charisma than her husband!” Those lines probably won’t go over well with the older conservatives who retain vestiges of their ’90s-era anti-Clinton hatred.Bottom line? If Huntsman does officially take the plunge (he has had people in the field for many months), his Republican rivals won’t even need to hire media copywriters. Because the anti-Huntsman attack ads would virtually write themselves.The letters potentially reinforce Huntsman’s prime political flaw. He has long seemed insufficiently conservative for a GOP primary electorate that has moved sharply rightward. In the past, as Utah’s governor, he has spoken favorably about climate-change policy (strike one), and about civil unions for gay couples (strike two). Then he accepted Obama’s offer to become ambassador to China, which means that Obama became his boss (foul tip); in November 2009, he even told reporters that he was “very, very proud of our president” (foul tip), and now, thanks to The Daily Caller, we have the written kiss (called strike three).Right on cue over the weekend, a spokesman for the Tea Party Express said that “effusive praise for (Obama) isn’t going to make you a lot of friends in the movement,” and a spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots said that the letters are a reminder that Hunstman has “always been very moderate…a politician cozying up to his political bosses.” Meanwhile, on Meet The Press yesterday, Utah Senator Mike Lee (who in the past has favored Mitt Romney) said: “Look, that letter, coupled with the fact that he was a member of this administration…might not be a huge benefit to him.”One might argue that Huntsman’s Obama letter is just your standard politesse, especially since it also thanks Obama for his “graciousness and kindness” towards Huntsman’s family. And Chuck Todd, the NBC analyst, tweeted a worthy point the other day: “Can’t you have high regard for someone as a leader and still disagree with him? Is this how low politics has gotten? Come on people.” But those nuances don’t matter. The secret source knew that these letters would embarrass Huntsman, that The Daily Caller would reach the right audience, all in the hopes of perhaps dissuading Huntsman from running the nomination gauntlet.So who’s the source? In the absence of knowledge, all speculations are equal. One theory is that the White House leaked to The Daily Caller, in the hopes of zapping a Republican whose moderate stances might make him a tough rival in a general election. Another theory, even more Machiavellian, is that the Huntsman camp leaked these letters, in the hopes of lancing the boil early and getting it over with.But the likeliest theory (for which I have no proof; nor does anyone else at the moment) is that one of Huntsman’s prospective primary season rivals orchestrated the ambush, in the hopes of demonstrating to conservative voters that Huntsman is an Obama lickspittle. Who might this rival be? No idea. I’ll simply observe that the candidate most threatened by a Huntsman bid is Mitt Romney. Both guys are Mormons, both guys potentially have lots and lots of money at their disposal, both guys need to convince conservatives to overlook some of their moderate positions, and both guys – because of those moderate positions – might be worthy general election candidates. (Mike Murphy, the Republican strategist, puts Romney and Huntsman on his short list of “grown up and electable” candidates.)At minimum, the Huntsman episode foretells that the Republican race will be quite a rumble. Finley Peter Dunne, now 75 years dead, would be the first to advise that beanbaggers need not apply.
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