Spin Cycle

04.23.12

Jon Huntsman's Rehab Tour

A former presidential candidate goes way off the reservation

Why is Jon Huntsman going rogue?

Having utterly flopped in the Republican primaries, the former Utah governor now seems intent on trashing the party.

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CNN

Here are the possibilities:

--He’s really ticked off at the GOP for failing to see the brilliance of his candidacy.

--He feels he damaged his reputation with his short-lived presidential run and is doing some repair work.

--He’s bored and wants some attention.

 Whatever the motivation, Huntsman is more interesting, and entertaining, right now than he was while slogging through New Hampshire, where he tried—and failed—to turn a third-place tie into a semblance of momentum.

 Maybe former candidates are inherently more fascinating when freed from the constraints of having to pander to actual voters. Or maybe he’s just looking for a gig on MSNBC.

 Huntsman kicked off his rehabilitation tour Sunday night at New York’s 92nd Street Y, saying he regretted raising his hand at one debate to oppose an imaginary budget containing $10 in cuts for every $1 in tax increases. “What went through my head is if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes…then I’m going to have a lot of explaining to do,” he said. Translation: Nuance doesn’t sell well in a sound-bite-driven campaign. Huntsman wishes he had a do-over.

I think that hurt Huntsman because many folks didn’t believe he would really reject a budget deal so favorable to the Republican side. He looked like he was just going along with the gang.

The former ambassador to Beijing also told the crowd he was disappointed that the GOP disinvited him from a Florida fundraiser after he called for a third party. His thumb-in-the-eye line was: “This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script.”

Ouch. Huntsman tried to walk it back a bit Monday on Morning Joe, saying: “You get these blogs out there — you know, BottomFeeder, BuzzSaw, Buzzfeed, whatever they are — and they take a sentence out of context and it becomes a headline.”

But here’s the Buzzfeed lead: “Former Republican candidate Jon Huntsman took a battle axe to his own party, comparing it to China's Communist Party…”

Seems on target to me.

Here’s the thing: Huntsman not only sought his party’s nomination, he endorsed Mitt Romney when he bowed out. Asked on the MSNBC show whether he would vote for Romney “enthusiastically,” Huntsman dodged the question with some words about how Mitt was the man to fix the economy. And calling for a third party is kind of a slap in the face to your own party, is it not?

He also suggested that it didn’t help when Michael Moore, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton said nice things about him: “We were so toast in Iowa by then.” That wasn’t the only reason, of course, but it’s true that in a staunchly conservative field, Huntsman was the favorite Republican of many Democrats. He had more fans in the press than he did Iowa and New Hampshire.

The former governor may have a bright future, but it’s probably not as a Republican presidential candidate. Or even as a Republican.