New Jersey

They rolled out of Washington in the dead of night. But the Huntsman bus was wide-awake. A group of around 50 young Jon Huntsman supporters had hit the road, heading up to Liberty State Park, New Jersey, to see the former ambassador announce his dark-horse candidacy. Like the campaign itself, the pilgrimage had been cobbled together at the last minute. The young volunteers had gotten word only a few days in advance and had scrambled to fill buses from D.C. and Philadelphia. Stephen, a Huntsman organizer with a Utah basketball jersey draped over his button-down, handed out bagels.

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Partisans have a general habit of insisting that their side would do better if only their leaders would give more strident speeches. Witness liberals during the health care debate demanding that President Obama mind-meld conservative Democrats into supporting the public option, or the Republicans who fervently believe that just a few more addresses by Paul Ryan can sell the public on his plan to slash the most cherished program in the United States so as to pay for unpopular tax cuts for the affluent. It’s usually a fantasy of escaping inescapable political constraints.

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As the GOP presidential nominating process begins to take shape, behind each candidate there emerges a cadre of consultants, managers, and strategists, some more prominent than others. And while we might not know for sure what kind of campaign each candidate plans to wage, we know a thing or two about the history of their more famous staffers.

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Under the Radar

The drab Amtrak depot in Detroit, Michigan, was recently the venue for a truly surreal scene: A Republican governor accepted—gratefully—a check from the Obama administration. This was not just any federal funding, either, but $200 million for that most Europhiliac of abominations: passenger rail. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich, and Florida’s Rick Scott had all rejected the money. But here was Rick Snyder, the state’s new Republican governor, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Carl Levin, John Conyers, and John Dingell, beaming genially and brandishing a giant check.

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The Real McCoy

For a political party that seems to derive its ideology from Ayn Rand’s embrace of heedless ambition, the Republicans are going through an unexpected Ferdinand the Bull phase. Many of the GOP’s top presidential prospects prefer smelling the flowers—or taking a New Jersey state helicopter to a son’s baseball game—to becoming Teddy Roosevelt’s man in the arena, scrapping for every vote in the Iowa caucuses. And while Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty long for the roar of the crowd, Republican voters are caught up in the allure of the non-combatant.

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In a normal world, Republicans would look at Mitt Romney, who is announcing his second run for their party’s presidential nomination today, as a sterling example of one of their party’s greatest success stories since the Reagan era. Unfortunately, it’s that very success that his party seems to have willfully forgotten—and the thing that’s most likely to doom Romney’s candidacy. The problem is much bigger than Romney’s health care reform in Massachusetts.

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First Read says that attention must be paid to a Chris Christie presidential candidacy: *** Pay more attention to Christie: Forget about Sarah Palin’s "dinner" last night with Donald Trump, one of whom isn’t running for president and the other of whom probably won’t run, either. The more important dinner -- at least as far as the “summer of speculation” goes -- took place across the river in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) met with Iowa Republican donors.

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Wednesday Reading

Ryan Avent returns from a trip to China and asks, “How Real Is China’s Growth?” Though not fungible, This Big City wonders what the cancellation of the Access to the Region’s Core Hudson River tunnel and the subsequent decision to subsidize a white elephant mega-mall says about priorities in New Jersey. Finally, a bit old, but via the Radials blog comes further evidence that all public infrastructure decisions should have an informative music video as part of the outreach.

[Guest post by James Downie] Last week, Ezra Klein suggested that perhaps the lack of enthusiasm among the GOP establishment for Tim Pawlenty lay in his unimpressive record as governor, including his reliance on "accounting shortcuts" to try to close the deficit, rather than actually cutting the size of the state government. Indeed, one of Pawlenty's favorite habits was shifting costs to local governments, as documented here: Pawlenty oversaw dramatic reductions in higher-education funding and refused to spend more on early childhood programs.

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Andkhoi, Afghanistan—The changing of the guard in Faryab province takes place in sinister mimicry of the desert’s perpetual diurnal rhythm. In the brief and hazy dusk, police officers patrolling the rutted roads and villages of thirsty apricot groves pile into green pickup trucks and go home. In their place, on motorcycles, in cars, and on foot, the Taliban take charge, until morning. (This is the second in a series of dispatches by Anna Badkhen from northern Afghanistan.

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