If Huntsman has one solid constituency, it's the press. McCain once semi-jokingly referred to reporters as his "base," and Huntsman seems to be moving into a similar spot, enjoying mostly positive treatment from publications like The New York Times and The New Yorker. That's another turnoff for the GOP base.
Meanwhile, Huntsman is quite open about his plan to appeal to independent voters and Democrats who are eligible to vote in the New Hampshire and South Carolina Republican primaries. It's the old McCain strategy, which failed in 2000 but succeeded in 2008. Of course, it succeeded in 2008 because McCain worked hard to undo some of the damage he had done eight years earlier by alienating the GOP base. He took some hits from his former friends in the press, but he won the nomination.
Maybe a McCain-esque strategy will work for Huntsman. But it probably won't, for one basic reason: Jon Huntsman is not John McCain.
As much as McCain aggravated the base -- and many couldn't stand him -- Republicans had a deep respect for his record as a war hero. McCain is an extraordinary man who has made extraordinary sacrifices for the United States, and for Republicans who revere military service, that made up for a host of political offenses. Try to imagine candidate McCain without the heroism; he mostly would have irritated people.
Huntsman has a solid record as governor of Utah. With his knowledge of Chinese and his experience as an ambassador, he has foreign-policy credentials most other GOP candidates don't have. He might conceivably appeal to independent voters. But trying to run as John McCain without the heroism won't work. McCain was uniquely positioned to run the kind of campaign he did. Huntsman isn't.
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