Setting The Week in Politics: Huntsman, Perry, Obama and More

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show, Melinda Henneberger, contributing editor to, discussed the battle lines being drawn within the GOP and other news of the week.

Why Huntsman's in the headlines

Jon Huntsman runs to the left of every other Republican presidential candidate. After this weekend, it appears he has a new campaign strategy: owning that position.

Months into the race and way behind in the polls, the former Governor of Utah and Ambassador to China tweeted his belief in evolution and global warming, then went on a Sunday morning talk show to call his opponents—frontrunners like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann—unelectable. A shot at the headlines? Sure. But Melinda Henneberger welcomed Huntsman's edge, saying it could give the Republican party something to think about as they look beyond the primaries.

He's starting to have fun with it, and when you're at 2.2 percent in the polls, you can do that...He's making the case that if his party wants to have a real shot at winning in the fall, you can't go with Michele Bachmann, you can't go with Rick Perry.

Was Rick Perry serious about Ben Bernanke?

Where Huntsman took his time, Rick Perry wasted none. Only a week into his campaign, Perry has packed the headlines; he already has what Henneberger calls a "greatest hits" of statements from the stump. Most inflammatory was Perry's comment that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke may be guilty of treason for what Perry believes is damaging fiscal policy.

How serious was he? Brian Lehrer wondered if Perry was simply attempting an analogy to show how much he disagreed with Bernanke, but Henneberger reminded him that Perry's made similar comments about Barack Obama. She worried it would be the trope for his campaign.

When you walk up to the line on all these things...I personally don't like to hear anyone from any side questioning other people's motives for their policies, and I don't think it's particularly helpful to stir up this who-loves-their-country-who-doesn't.

Hoping for change from Obama

Swagger is in abundance for the Republican field, but it's been seriously lacking in the White House. Henneberger said there's been some truth to the claims that President Obama has been "leading from behind," offering Americans more commiseration to than comfort.

He seems in all his recent, many speeches like one more frustrated American who can't get anybody from Congress on the line. He kept giving these listless statements about, 'Everybody call Congress, let them know they have to do something,' as if he weren't a player in it.

Henneberger hoped that the President's post-debt-deal vacation would refresh him, and that he'd return to work with new ideas. "He better come back with some energy and some new thinking on this," she said.