For a guy who has almost no chance of becoming the 2012 Republican nominee for president, Jon Huntsman is getting a lot more attention -- of a particular kind -- than you might expect. Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson, former governors who have about the same shot at the nomination as Huntsman, aren't getting 6,000-word profiles in the New York Times Magazine, or ginormous profiles in Esquire (that one rolled out piece by piece as though it were the scoop of the decade). But Huntsman is, and at the Columbia Journalism Review, Greg Marx has an idea why:
Huntsman's tone is a bit different, but something about these comments — the ironic detachment from events, the understanding of a reporter’s need to write about the campaign as spectacle, the willingness to join the interviewer in knowing inside-baseball talk — recalls another Republican candidate who seemed sometimes to treat the press as a core constituency. That would be the 2000-vintage John McCain, who also figured out how to command a striking amount of media attention.
And that similarity should be no surprise. As Bai reports, the Huntsman campaign is to a considerable degree the brainchild of John Weaver, the Republican strategist who was a key part of the Straight Talk Express. Comparisons between Huntsman and McCain — or at least, of the McCain who ran for president — tend to focus on their moderate views, their embrace of what Weaver calls a "bigness" agenda, and their strategic focus on New Hampshire. But in a GOP field whose other players are more likely to shun or attack the "lamestream" media, Huntsman's canny engagement may be the characteristic that is most reminiscent of McCain.
And the fact that Huntsman has virtually no chance of becoming the nominee is part of reporters' attraction to him. Just as they did with McCain in 2000, they can use their writing about Huntsman to comment on the absurdity of the process, by noting how tough it is for a smart, reasonable, personable guy like Huntsman to get any traction. Follow him around for a day, and you can get beyond the repetitive stuff about polls and fundraising and have an excuse to air your own Big Thoughts about the pathology of presidential campaigns in the 21st century.
Right now Huntsman is polling in the low single digits. That'll rise somewhat, but given that he's pledging civility, moderation, and restrained criticism of the Obama administration -- essentially the polar opposite of what the primary electorate wants -- he won't be the nominee. The kind of attention he's getting won't hurt, but it doesn't help all that much, particularly since the coverage will reinforce all the reasons primary voters will be turned off by him. But if nothing else, it'll set him up well for his second run in 2016.
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