One answer is the company he keeps. Despite his solidly conservative views on many issues, Huntsman has gathered a group of advisers and supporters from the moderate-to-liberal side of the GOP spectrum and has received largely favorable treatment in the political press. Many conservatives look at that and say: There must be something wrong.Huntsman's top campaign aide is John Weaver, who was John McCain's top campaign aide in 2000 and in the early stages of the 2008 campaign -- campaigns that often raised the ire of the GOP base. (Weaver has also worked for some Democrats.) Other McCain veterans have signed on with Huntsman, as well. Still others, like Mark McKinnon -- the aide who worked for McCain in the 2008 primaries but left because he did not want to campaign against Barack Obama -- also favor Huntsman. (McKinnon is a co-founder of the "No Labels" movement, much derided by conservatives.)
When Huntsman took second place in the Republican Leadership Conference straw poll in New Orleans recently, Politico reported that he benefited from the vote wrangling of former Louisiana Rep. Joseph Cao, whom conservatives well remember as the only Republican to vote for Obamacare in the House. There's another mark against Huntsman. And that's before conservatives consider the fact that Huntsman spent the past two years working for the Obama administration.
The conservative base pays close attention to the people who surround a candidate. In the eyes of some, personnel can trump policy. "At both the Republican Leadership Council and at Right Online (another conservative gathering), the majority of conservative activists I spoke to said they knew nothing of Huntsman's positions," says conservative activist Erick Erickson, "but his campaign team had the makings of the second coming of John McCain."
Huntsman has yet to make much of an impression on the voting public. He has virtually no support in early polls, and Gallup recently found that while he is now known by more Republicans than ever before, the positive intensity of those who know him has declined, suggesting that he is "not attracting the same level of support from Republicans who have newly been introduced to him as he did from those who were familiar with him early on."