When Texas Gov. Rick Perry questioned the science behind global warming and evolution, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman acted like a man who just could not take it anymore. First, he went on Twitter and tweeted, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
Is Huntsman insane?
That tweet got re-tweeted more than any other tweet by a presidential candidate to date. And perhaps it marked the beginning of a new phase in the Huntsman campaign where Huntsman positions himself as a feisty center-right candidate who is conservative on fiscal issues and life while being more moderate on social and environmental issues. This would fit him squarely with young independent voters who describe themselves reflexively as “socially moderate, fiscally conservative.”
But Huntsman is not running in a theoretical Independent primary. Nor will his nomination be determined solely by college students. No matter, Huntsman continued his jabs at his opponents to the right on Sunday on ABC’s This Week.
“I think there is a serious problem, the minute the Republican Party becomes … the anti-science party, we have a huge problem,” Huntsman said. “We lose a whole lot of people, who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012 when we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution … that runs counter to what 100 to 900 climate scientists have said, [runs counter to] what the national academy of science has said.”
And in interviews with other outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, Huntsman implied that Perry and Michele Bachmann were speaking “nonsense” and were putting the Republican Party “out of the mainstream.”
So should we deem Huntsman to be crazy?
Here are five reasons why he may be and five reasons why he may be crazy like a fox.
Why he may be crazy:
2. Running against his party in his party’s primary:
Huntsman, in trying to act like the “adult,” may come across as someone who is “too cool for school” or as a candidate who seems to be chiding his party and, by doing so, making it seem like he is thumbing his nose at conservatives.
3. Links him closer to Obama in an anti-Obama cycle:
Especially with his more moderate stances on climate change, he again becomes linked to President Obama during a cycle in which anti-Obama sentiment is energizing and uniting the Republican primary electorate.
4. Conservatives hate the mainstream media that adores him:
It is fitting that the ire that Rick Perry drew from the mainstream media seems to have helped him during his first week on the campaign trail. Proof: Perry has rocketed to the top in some state and national polls. Huntsman, embraced by the media elite in Washington and their publications such as Esquire and Vogue, has gotten the opposite result. The more the mainstream media embraces him, the more Republican primary voters seem repelled by him. And this just continues that trend and gives more ammunition to those who think Huntsman’s base is the mainstream press.
5. Granola over red meat:
While Huntsman may want to frame his candidacy as one that is fighting feverishly for the right to be reasoned and moderate, he risks becoming too professorial during a cycle in which red meat rhetoric reins.
Why he may be crazy like a fox:
1. New Hampshire:
New Hampshire voters are more moderate than voters in Iowa and South Carolina. The attention Huntsman gets from embracing science and directly attacking Perry and Bachmann can endear him to Granite State voters. If Huntsman beats Romney in New Hampshire, he essentially inherits Romney’s draw and can position himself to be the last moderate, viable Republican standing in a field in which conservatives may split the vote, which is essentially Romney’s proverbial path to the nomination. Should Huntsman defeat Romney in New Hampshire, he also inherits Romney’s path to the GOP nomination.
2. Learning from Pawlenty and showing conviction:
More than anything, voters in New Hampshire value conviction. Huntsman runs the risk of being the Whole Foods equivalent to Tim Pawlenty’s failed Sam’s Club candidacy — an empty vessel devoid of a defining message. When Pawlenty failed to tell Romney to his face that his healthcare plan could be referred to as “ObamneyCare” during a debate in New Hamsphire, his fate was sealed. Donors who were looking for an anti-Romney discounted him and his image as a weakling who was timid was solidified.
By speaking his mind and with conviction, Huntsman is showing conviction and making a play to become the anti-Romney candidate the GOP establishment and big money donors may feel comfortable getting behind to challenge and defeat Romney before carrying the GOP’s banner into the general election.
3. Angering conservative talkers and websites such as RedState:
It is worth nothing that Huntsman’s jabs at Perry may be more significant in light of Perry having announced at RedState. When Huntsman announced, RedState’s Erick Erickson said Huntsman was disloyal by running against President Obama, which created a stir. It is worth noting that Huntsman went on the attack after Perry’s comments about creationism and evolution and, on This Week, took another jab at Perry, in regards to his comments about Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, by asking if Perry’s comments were reflective of pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas. There probably is no love lost between Huntsman and RedState, an outlet favorable to Perry.
There is, though, a core group of moderate Republicans in a state like New Hampshire that loathe the talk radio wing of the Republican party as much as the talk radio wing loathes the mainstream media. Intentionally or unintentionally, the hatred Huntsman engenders among the talk radio crowd may actually endear him to moderate Republicans, independents, and Democrats in New Hampshire and moderate Republicans throughout the country.
4. Generates Buzz:
Huntsman is low in the polls and risks being ignored. People are now talking about him again. He is again a part of the national conversation, even if, according to some, for the wrong reasons.
5. Show him the money:
Huntsman has said he will not exorbitantly pour his own money into his campaign. With donors skittish about donating to Bachmann or Perry, Huntsman can try to establish himself as the candidate donors who may have been waiting for Mitch Daniels to run can flock to en masse. These donors tend to be fiscally conservative but moderate on social and environmental issues and like candidates with a more professorial tone. If Huntsman can get these donors on board, it will allow him to go the distance if he knocks off Romney in New Hampshire.