Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman announced his candidacy this week. Political reporter Dave Weigel says that Huntsman's only constituency is the press, and that for a Republican candidate, that's more of a kiss of death then a boon.
From WNYC in New York, this is On the Media. Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield are both off this week. I’m Mike Pesca.
There's a type of candidate who engenders a particular type of coverage, the candidate the media loves to love.
He's nowhere right now but he's gonna seem quite impressive to, I think, a fair number of voters.
This is a guy who's doing things differently. He's got some very progressive ideas about where to take the Republican Party.
People want to come see him in action, talk to him, touch him…
This object of the media’s affection frequently exhibits a civility and willingness to compromise, which the most Machiavellian among us might note are fine virtues for one's enemies to have. The candidate the media loves to love will not be afraid to rip into his own party, but be genteel when it comes to party stalwarts of the opposite stripe.
In the 2008 election John McCain at least began his campaign as the media candidate. This time around it's the former governor of Utah.
I'm Jon Huntsman and I'm running for President of the United States.
Thank you all.
Being the media-besotted candidate may not be a great position for a Republican in this age of brick-bats and Breitbarts. And Huntsman seems to sense this. He’s walked back some of the positions which got him called sensible in the first place.
For example, he now says it's not the right time for the cap and trade policies he once supported. Also, while he took stimulus money as Governor of Utah, he now says he doesn't think the stimulus worked well.
Slate’s Dave Weigel says Huntsman’s supposed moderation, while loved by the media, will be seen as a vice in the eyes of Republican voters, especially the ones from states that hold early caucuses and primaries.
It's something that's not comprehensible possibly for liberal voters or for independent voters. Conservative voters are convinced 1) that the media is set against them, and 2) that the media was responsible and culpable in helping elect Barack Obama, who they consider not just a failure of a president but somebody who was sold to them and an unfair, dishonest way.
That's where I start when discussing Huntsman. These people do not like the fact [LAUGHS] that he is so warmly spoken of on morning talk shows.
Now, is this the all — most of the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire or just the people who make the most noise?
Well, the people who make the most noise, but Iowa’s caucus system is designed for noisy people. He has basically punted on Iowa. I mean, Huntsman said before he got into the race that he didn't think he'd compete there, that he thought he could really make a stand in New Hampshire.
I know that there's always been that bumper sticker that says a variation of, piss off The New York Times –
Vote Republican. But especially in this day and age, with issues of unemployment and all these wars that we’re engaged in, do you think having a loathing of the media is going to be anywhere near the driving force that it has been in the last few elections for Republicans?
I think a bit more, actually, because again –MIKE PESCA:
- Republicans feel like the country was sold a bill of goods by Barack Obama. Look, you can't talk to Republican voters or even independent voters who have gone Republican and come away with any - anything other than the idea that they're very concerned about the economy, and because of that they're willing to accept a lot from a candidate, but they're also very concerned about nominating somebody who saw early on the mistakes that liberals were making.
Now, that doesn’t all transfer onto, it’s just that Huntsman begins this with an appeal to reporters. And they’re – they’re using that very well. I mean, there are lots of governors of states that only have two or three members of Congress, and not all of them are taken seriously as presidential candidates. He is taken seriously because of his appeal to the media. Go ahead.
And, and his appeal to the media because of his biography, which includes —
- that he served in the Obama administration and that he took stances that would be defined as moderate among Republicans.
The importance of Jon Huntsman as a national figure rests entirely on this period between the election of Barack Obama and when – when Huntsman was selected as ambassador to China. And, you know, Huntsman is on the record at the time saying what he would, I think, still say were pragmatic things, saying that the stimulus bill should have been larger or should have been more targeted, but basically the idea of a big stimulus bill is not bad.
And if he actually runs a campaign dedicated to changing the way voters think about this, that’d be one thing. So far he isn’t really doing that. When he's pinned down on his previous positions, he finds a way to pivot to someone else.
Now, the things he's - he's flip-flopped on I think are incredibly unconvincing. When he talks about that, that greenhouse gas initiative, it's a lot like when Romney talks about his Massachusetts health care plan.
So you think the media is writing the Huntsman story as if he still is the moderate guy, when they should, in fact, be writing the Huntsman story as Republican candidate announces, currently has, you know 95 percent of the stated doctrinaire Republican views.
[LAUGHS] Well, yeah, but he - he's trying to be unspecific, and you get very far by being unspecific.
Do you think Washington reporters, in general, like apostate Republicans more than they like apostate Democrats?
I actually think we're equal opportunity fans of apostates. You know, in the Senate you can notice the biggest clouds of reporters are around people like Lindsey Graham, who we know are going to say critical things of the party leadership, who might align themselves to the president on some foreign policy issue. And they’re also around people like Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman.
And, again, the – this, this race kind of lacks – the Republican race kind of lacks a candidate who will go at Republicans on some of the truths they all believe.
It's a bit odd because in other countries that have similar economic problems – no one has just our economic problems - there's a lot of truth-telling going on about what we need to do to get out of this mess, truth-telling about what benefits we need to give up or what taxes
we need to increase.
So it just may be the case that the coverage [LAUGHS] of Huntsman, the favorable coverage of Huntsman is, is the candidate that we want to see, this truth-teller. It's not really Huntsman but, you know, he comes closer than anyone else.
I think the media is desirous of that. A lot of people are desirous of that.
Dave Weigel is a political reporter for Slate.com. Thanks a lot.