The conventional wisdom is that Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and presidential candidate, is being played by his political handlers. According to this narrative, they are taking the billionaire for the biggest paycheck of their lives.
They are telling him that he can bypass Iowa, play to the middle and the media, like John McCain did in 2008, pull an upset in New Hampshire and ride his dark horse to the nomination. This presupposes that his handlers are superhuman con men. Having watched Huntsman in action during these debates and knowing some of his paid handlers, none of the three seems plausible to me.
So what is Jon Huntsman trying to do? If he can't win, why is he in this presidential race? And why were CNN executives so willing to help him in the last Republican debate, making sure their producers and directors got the message "puff Huntsman" signaling the anchors to keep going to him again and again with softball questions?
Why should a contender who is running dead last in the polls get such fawning attention and respect from CNN, of all places?
Gov. Huntsman announced for president last June 21, with poise and class, acting oblivious to the anti-Mormon bias in the GOP ranks in Iowa and the South.
Hadn't he learned anything watching Mitt Romney suffer through that process in the last cycle? Was he really going to split the Mormon vote in Nevada and ruin Romney's legitimate chances there? And then he dissed his own religion. What serious candidate knocks his own base?
Yet, unperturbed, Huntsman has remained suntanned and relaxed throughout the process, ignoring the coming losses with a transcendent confidence.
Nothing that has happened so far should be feeding that confidence. The governor garnered only 69 votes in the Iowa straw poll. Write-in candidates not even on the ballot got more votes than Huntsman.
He was the butt of Jon Stewart jokes. He is, even now, running at 2 percent in some Republican presidential preference polls. Dead last among the contenders.
He never fails to tell his GOP audiences that he believes in climate change, which won him kudos yesterday from Al Gore. He loves telling evangelical Christian audiences in Iowa and South Carolina that he believes in evolution. In fact, he has brought the subject up, unsolicited, in the last two national debates.
So what is going on?
Here is the answer my friends: Jon Huntsman is running for a Cabinet position in Barack Obama's second term as president.
He will let his GOP rivals pile on. He will let the GOP audiences sneer. He will remain the gentleman, above the mean-spirited debate around him. And he will bask in the glory afforded him by an adoring mainstream media, which favors Obama's re-election anyway. And when duly re-elected Barack Obama, declared by the Sienna Institute to be the 15th greatest president of all time, will grandly announce to the American people, "I am going to keep my promise, I am going to do everything I can to unite this country, even to the point of naming a Republican to my Cabinet" he will call for Jon Huntsman.
Obama will be shown reaching all the way across the aisle to the GOP to pick one of their own presidential contenders as his new secretary of commerce. Only he really won't have to reach very far to get his man. And Huntsman is obviously not "contending" for the nomination.
The media, with a straight face, will say "what a bipartisan, statesman-like gesture by our dear president."
Jon Huntsman has all the credentials to be in an Obama Cabinet. He is a second generation billionaire who knows how to be play the game. He was ambassador to Singapore for George Herbert Walker Bush and ambassador to China for Barack Obama. And that means he understands well that former ambassadors, from time immemorial, especially when they are wealthy, are expected to pay for their position after the president leaves office.
After all, an ambassador keeps his title for life. It is the closest thing we have to royalty in America. And if the president should die, the ambassador should be very generous to his family.
It is like a lord and his king. A former president, for example, should be able to count on the use of the former ambassador's corporate jet, or the box seats at a favorite sporting event, or a plush position on the board of directors of one of the billionaire's companies.
Huntsman must play this game especially well, since he has been "knighted" by both Republican and Democrat administrations. What can he do for an encore? Surely he does not want another Ambassadorship.
You can bet that you won't hear Jon Hunstman echoing Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, calling for an audit of the Federal Reserve. His companies may need some of those billions, beyond the reach of the ordinary folks.
And for those who feel sorry for a very eloquent and intelligent man, who seems to have fallen way behind in the presidential race? Well, save your pity for another. Jon Huntsman is actually very far ahead in the race to be in President Obama's next Cabinet.
Only Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta are ahead of him. And there is a danger of getting too far out front, something that Clinton and Panetta know well and Huntsman should remember. So we should hear him step it up a bit with a little more partisan language. If he is going to be of any use for Obama he has to at least try to sound like a Republican.
It is all part of his plan. The only thing that can go wrong now? Well, one of the Republicans might win.
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