Huntsman's Out; Let's Hope His Failed Campaign Manager Goes, Too

Matthew Sheffield
By Matthew Sheffield | January 17, 2012 | 5:55 PM EST

Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign was over before it started. But, it didn't need to be.

Not because he wasn't a reasonably conservative and successful governor who had a reasonably conservative economic agenda, but because he followed some very bad advice.

While the flameout of his campaign puts a dent in any future political aspirations for Huntsman, it ought to drive the final nail in the coffin of the career of Huntsman's campaign adviser, John Weaver.

Weaver, who was last seen helping John McCain lose in 2008, resurfaced this year to run Huntsman's campaign.

That was Huntsman's first mistake.

Huntsman could have been a good candidate given his conservative record. Conservatives might have forgiven his mistaken decision to accept President Obama's appointment as Ambassador to China - except that, following Weaver's advice, Huntsman campaigned for the nomination of the center-right party by repeatedly poking his finger into the thumb of the party's right eye.

As Ed Morrisey puts it, Huntsman "strode through the Republican primary process like an long-jilted boyfriend attending the wedding of a high-school sweetheart trying to prove that the bride was making a terrible mistake."

At BuzzFeed, Ben Smith writes that Weaver "thought Huntsman could tap into a silent, moderate Republican majority." Says Smith of Weaver, "the Huntsman campaign is the latest and purest version of a strategy that he’s been pressing since he was at John McCain’s right hand in 2000: A Republican campaign that embraces the mainstream media, sets itself against elements of conservative dogma, and builds a coalition of moderate Republicans and independents that – if it could only survive the primary – would be formidable in a general election."

Traditionally, campaigns consolidate their base in the primary and move a bit toward the center in the general. Huntsman's campaign flipped that around. The unseen hand of Weaver, who relishes bashing conservatives, was self-evident in Huntsman's campaign from day one to the bitter end.

John Weaver showed with this election that he needs to join Ed Rollins in the ash heap of Republican consultants who enjoy bashing conservatives. They may enjoy bashing conservatives, but doing it is a strategy for losing elections. There is no "silent, moderate Republican majority" anymore than there is some large contingent of conservative Christians who yearn for big government--Rollins's typical hard-sell.

Four years ago, Weaver's candidate managed to win the nomination, largely on the strength of John McCain's heroic personal backstory and the weakness of the rest of the field, but McCain's frequent bashing of conservatives made his road to the nomination more difficult than it needed to be, and -- until his selection of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential running mate -- gave conservatives no reason to be enthusiastic about him or work hard for his campaign in the general election.

And now, in the Tea Party age, Weaver's approach is a non-starter. Indeed, as recent Gallup polling shows the Republican Party and independents becoming more conservative, it's campaign malpractice to run a Republican campaign based on a strategy of attacking conservatives -- as Weaver ran Huntsman's.

Huntsman could have been a formidable candidate, had he run on his conservative record. Instead, he made the big mistake of listening to some very bad advice. The result: Huntsman finishes as a footnote in the campaign.

Given that one of the most important early choices a president makes is who to bring to the White House as his advisers, perhaps it's for the best.

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