Turmoil is gripping the presidential campaign of former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. A 4,000-word article in Politico detailed an internal campaign feud, and commentators say the Huntsman effort is unraveling.
To paraphrase Henry Kissinger, the conflict is so vicious because the stakes are so low. In Republican primary preference surveys, Mr. Huntsman scores light single digits. The Intrade futures market gives him a 3 percent chance of being the next president, down from 8 percent when he announced his candidacy in late June. According to Gallup, he is the least known Republican candidate. A CNN poll shows his favorable and unfavorable ratings are dwarfed by the response “never heard of.”
The issue is not whether Mr. Huntsman would make a good president. He would hands-down do a better job than the current occupant of the White House. The question is why a long-shot candidacy gets so much media attention. Part of it is that the press enjoys controversy, and when a campaign appears to be melting down, it’s a good story. But Mr. Huntsman has long been getting favorable press from liberal commentators who tout him as the type of moderate Republicans should support if they weren’t in thrall of barbaric Tea Party hordes. As liberal E .J. Dionne wrote, Mr. Huntsman represents “a less doctrinaire and less angry GOP” and is seeking voters “who don’t take their cues from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.” Obama political adviser David Plouffe said Mr. Huntsman was the only Republican who made him “a wee bit queasy” about 2012. Obviously, the left believes Mr. Huntsman is the type of candidate who could divide the GOP, which could help President Obama skate back into office for a miserable second term.
Mr. Huntsman has been compared favorably to the late Henry Cabot Lodge, a Massachusetts senator, ambassador to the United Nations and Richard Nixon’s running mate in the closely contested 1960 election. In 1963, President Kennedy sent Lodge to Saigon as ambassador to South Vietnam, some said to remove a potential competitor for the upcoming presidential race. The same was said about Mr. Huntsman’s posting to China. Mr. Lodge had no intention of running for president, but Mr. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and a surprise Lodge write-in victory in the New Hampshire primary vaulted him temporarily to front-runner status. He was briefly a press darling, contrasting both with liberal New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and arch-conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona, but his star soon faded.
Time will tell how Mr. Huntsman’s campaign will fare. The nose-diving U.S. economy should make the Obama campaign feel queasy no matter who gets the GOP nod. It would be ironic justice if Mr. Obama were defeated by a candidate chosen by liberals as the preferred Republican option.