How Jon Huntsman can win the GOP nomination
Fourth in a series of scenarios on how GOP presidential candidates could win the nomination
IT’S THREE months from now - and three months before the New Hampshire primary.
Jon Huntsman is lying on a couch.
“I’ve never been to a shrink,’’ he tells the psychiatrist.
“Why are you here?’’
“Stress! I’m running for president, but most people don’t know or care. My strategist says I come across as elitist and out-of-touch, like a Republican John Kerry.’’
“That surprises me. All my liberal friends say you’re their favorite Republican. Please continue.’’
“Well, people think I’m eccentric . . . Son of a billionaire, but I love grimy diners. Unorthodox Mormon, but I’m raising my adopted daughters in Hinduism and Buddhism. I speak Mandarin. Rock musician, motorcyclist . . . Moderate on social issues, but conservative as governor of Utah. . . I was President Obama’s ambassador to China, but now I’m promoted as the cool Republican.’’
“Weird,’’ mutters the psychiatrist.
“Nothing,’’ he says, scribbling on his notepad. “It sounds like you’re having an identity crisis.’’
Days later, Huntsman is meeting with his strategist.
“You’re still far behind in polls, so we only have desperate options,’’ says the strategist.
“How desperate?’’ asks Huntsman.
“Well, if you didn’t have millions of your own for advertising, there’d be a tag on your toe saying John Doe, not Jon Huntsman,’’ says the strategist. “But don’t worry, we have ideas to reinvent you. It’s not too late to give you an identity Republicans can relate to.
“Option A is Operation Brainiac. We turn the liability of your being intellectual into a plus. We buy 5-minute spots in New Hampshire where you go into impressive detail about how you’d solve problems. You’ll be a ‘new ideas’ candidate. And we’ll give the ideas clever names, like Debt-Buster and Job-Juicer.’’
Huntsman shrugs. “Option B?’’
“We wanted to make you ‘The Huntsman’ - a manly hunter in New Hampshire - but realized you couldn’t compete image-wise with Rick Perry. People know how the Texas governor went jogging, saw a coyote, thought it threatened his dog, whipped out his handgun and shot it dead. Now that’s conservative - packing heat while jogging.’’
“We call it, Romney 2.0. With his collapse as frontrunner, you can become the new Romney - the electable, wealthy, Mormon pragmatist. You’d be the new, improved model. We’d package you as the authentic moderate.’’
“Package me as authentic?’’ Huntsman winces.
That night, while relaxing in a New Hampshire inn, Huntsman rereads “Siddhartha.’’ He loves the tale of a spiritual journey from asceticism to worldly life, and back again.
The next morning, he cancels his campaign schedule and goes hiking. He walks through woods, villages. . . stopping at diners, occasionally chatting with folks.
He continues for days. Word gets out that he’s missing in action, but then it’s reported he’s walking the state. New Hampshire voters think it’s odd that he’s not courting them, just listening.
The media report it as a funny story - a candidate walking, not running, for office. But curious people seek him out, and some invite him to stay overnight in their homes.
Talk shows analyze “the Huntsman hike.’’ John McLaughlin asks panelists: “Is he an anti-hero anti-candidate?’’ Sean Hannity asks, “Is he really an all-American populist? Remember, the man was ambassador to Red China.’’ Pat Buchanan asks, “By acting independent of the mass media and the political establishment, will he draw cranky independents into the Republican primary?’’
One day in New Hampshire, a crowd gathers around Huntsman.
Someone asks why he’s walking the state. He reflects for a moment. “I’m on an existential quest, with transcendent meaning.’’ He notices the blank expressions and disappointment. “Just kidding. I’m searching for the best chowder!’’
They cheer. A man exclaims, “You may be eccentric, but you’re one of us!’’
Todd Domke is a Boston-area Republican political analyst, public relations strategist, and author.