POLITICS JANUARY 11, 2012
We are gathered here in remembrance of the Jon Huntsman presidential campaign, which passed away quietly last night in its home state of New Hampshire. Yes, many of its next of kin are still in the first stage of grief (denial), but the rest of us should say our goodbyes, in preparation for moving on to more conservative Republican pastures. Here, in tribute, are some highlights (and lowlights) from the ill-fated seven month campaign that managed to captivate the hearts of the media, if not the voting public:
June 2011: After spending his entire career in politics as “Jon Huntsman Jr.” the candidate drops the suffix in preparation for his presidential bid. A late-life Oedipal revolt? No, just a convenient way to distance himself from his billionaire father Jon Huntsman Sr., a man who regularly shows up in Forbes’ lists of the world’s richest people.
June 15: To promote awareness of their impending official announcement, the Huntsman campaign begins releasing a series of Fred Davis-produced 30 second web ads featuring a Huntsman stand-in riding the candidate's motorcycle through Monument Valley. Foreshadowing the unorthodox campaign strategy to come, each spot offers a bit of oblique character praise. One example: "Did not become famous with his band ‘Wizard.’"
June 21: In honor of Reagan, who also launched his candidacy there, Huntsman officially announces his campaign for the presidency at Liberty State Park in New York. Members of the media are issued press passes promoting “John Huntsman for President,” much to Jon Huntsman’s chagrin.
July 21: Susie Wiles steps down as campaign manager while Huntsman opts to retain divisive chief strategist John Weaver. Two weeks later, a Politico exposé describes the Huntsman campaign as “disorganized and full of staff tension,” painting Weaver as uncooperative and prone to conflict.
August 18: When Rick Perry dismisses evolution as “a theory” that has “got some gaps in it,” Huntsman seizes the opportunity to burnish his moderate bona fides, tweeting “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” It gets re-tweeted 3,600 times, making him the most successful GOP presidential candidate on Twitter. What it does not do is lift him out of the single digits in national polls. (Ditto with a gauzy Vogue magazine profile of the candidate released that same day.)
August 31: Huntsman releases a tax plan that in any other year would be maligned as radically conservative, but in the current campaign cycle hardly raises eyebrows. Among its policy aims are to dispense with the Alternative Minimum Tax, as well as taxes on capital gains and dividends, and to reduce the corporate rate from 35% to 25%.
September 1: Huntsman replaces New Hampshire campaign manager Ethan Elion with Sarah Crawford Stewart, a campaign veteran who ran the New Hampshire activities of Tim Pawlenty's brief 2012 presidential bid. The move signals the campaign’s intention to go “all in” for the Granite State primary, as it begins redirecting staff there from other states.
September 12: In a CNN/Tea Party Express debate, Huntsman circuitously nods to Nirvana’s song “All Apologies” by wondering whether Romney’s book No Apology “was written by Kurt Cobain or not.”
September 16: Former governor of Pennsylvania and first Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge officially endorses Huntsman, earning indifferent shrugs across the country.
October 28: Jon2012girls, otherwise known as Jon Huntsman’s three oldest children, release a video parody of the widely ridiculed Herman Cain smoking ad in which they spoof Cain’s mustachioed campaigner manager. “We are shamelessly promoting our dad like no other candidate’s family ever has,” they say. A chancy followup video and a tweeted swipe at Romney prompts one campaign source to lament their having “gone rogue.”
December 5: Donald Trump appears on Hannity to brag about snubbing Huntsman and Ron Paul. “[Huntsman] wanted a meeting. I didn’t give it to him… And then I see him in a debate saying, ‘unlike you people, I didn’t go and see Donald Trump.’ He’s a Mormon, so I’m sure he wouldn’t lie about it.” Huntsman complains that Trump’s input “dumbs down and makes less consequential” the pertinent issues. Later that day, Huntsman is disinvited from an upcoming debate in Iowa because his latest poll numbers are too low.
December 7: Huntsman ditches his “sane moderate” image, labeling himself a “consistent conservative,” and challenging the conservative credentials of Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.
January 6, 2012: Huntsman earns the endorsement of The Boston Globe whose approval is coveted because of its influence in New Hampshire.
January 7: Huntsman has his best debate performance yet, receiving applause when he charges Romney with being “divisive” for serving as Ambassador to China under President Obama. He also accuses Romney of baiting a “trade war” with China and belittles him in Mandarin. (This receives less applause.)
January 8: Hoping to get more use out of it, the Huntsman campaign adopts John McCain’s bygone motif ‘Country First’ following criticism from Romney for his having worked in the Obama administration. Huntsman releases an ad the next day reminding voters that while he was “serving [his] country in China,” Romney was “out raising money.”
January 10: Jon Huntsman receives 17 percent in the New Hampshire primary, losing to Mitt Romney by more than 20 points. Huntsman promises to fight on, but with little organization in the coming primary states, and even less momentum, his bid for the White House seems all but over.
Simon Meiners is an intern at The New Republic.