Earlier this month, an aide to Jon Huntsman promised that his candidate would resist the angry tone and name-calling of modern political campaigns. “I think he’ll make it clear where he disagrees when it comes to policy and where he wants to take this country, but for him this is a campaign based on substance and not names.”
It was an odd claim—a so-called velvet hammer strategy that seemed naïve or unworkable, or both. And it was. In an article published six days later, Huntsman’s campaign manager, John Weaver, abandoned the high road strategy and suggested Republicans are “a bunch of cranks.” (Weaver, who worked for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the early part of the Bush administration, made his attack out of concern for the future of “our party.”)
If there was a substantive argument attached to that generalization, it went unreported. Hypocritical? Of course. Hypocrisy in pursuit of a more noble politics is not only acceptable but laudatory, in the minds of the Washington journalists Huntsman seems to be courting. And nothing says you’re a “new kind of Republican” than trashing the old ones or furrowing your brow at the tone of their rhetoric.
So it was no surprise that Huntsman touted a return to civility in his announcement yesterday, or that a campaign video timed to his speech included the observation that “not all modern conservatives must be loud or angry.”
It’s a strategy that might please the news media, but it’s hard to see how it’ll work with a Republican base that is justifiably angry about the direction of the country.
This doesn’t mean they’re bitter or unhinged or “cranks.” It is by and large a rational anger, driven by what they see as the gradual weakening of the country they grew up in—a redistribution of wealth at home and a redistribution of power abroad. They’re angry that unemployment is 9.1 percent despite an $814 billion stimulus. They’re angry that they may well not be able to keep the health care they like and that their premiums have gone up or soon will. They’re angry that, despite a $14.3 trillion debt, the White House is demagoguing entitlement reform after refusing to offer any serious proposals of its own. They’re angry that the president seems willing to commit troops to war but unwilling to use any political capital to rally the public to support those wars. They’re angry that the president is getting tough with Israel, a longtime ally, and ignoring the terror-sponsoring regime in Syria.
It seems to have taken Huntsman mere moments to understand that a strategy of chastising the Republican base was unwise. So in an interview with Sean Hannity, recorded right after his speech and aired last night, Huntsman praised the “anger and outrage” of the Tea Party as the proper functioning of American democracy and the pressure on lawmakers its creating as “a good outcome.”
Huntsman has criticized Mitt Romney for his flip-flops. But he sits atop of a campaign that began by condemning name-calling and quickly chose to engage in it, a campaign that lamented "loud" and "angry" conservatives only to embrace the "anger and outrage" of the Tea Party on the same day.
Huntsman 2012: Against name-calling and anger. And for them.