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The Grown-Up Primary: Huntsman vs. Romney

By John Heilemann, New York Magazine - August 1, 2011

Jon Huntsman Jr. sits on the edge of a couch in his new home in Washington, a four-story redbrick manse north of Dupont Circle that is ­ambassadorial in every detail. The living room is filled with furniture upholstered in yellow chintz and cretonne; the floor is covered with a well-worn Oriental rug; the walls are adorned with massive oil paintings of Asian street scenes. All of this is fitting, and not simply because Huntsman served until three months ago as the chief U.S. plenipotentiary to China, but because he still acts and speaks less like the presidential candidate he is today than the diplomat he recently was—his tone even, his sentences oblique, his diction narcotized by the passive voice and an acute aversion to the first-person singular. (So relentlessly does Huntsman refer to himself as “we” that a casual listener, as he himself wryly notes, might wonder, “Does this guy have a mouse in his pocket?”) None of which is ideal. But then, if you believe what you read in the political press, an inability to cough up an “I” is the least of the maladies currently afflicting the Huntsman candidacy.

 

It’s the morning of July 22, and just 24 hours earlier, Huntsman’s campaign manager, Susie Wiles, resigned and was replaced by his sharper-edged communications director, Matt David. The news has the horserace handicappers aflutter, as it apparently confirms the congealing conventional wisdom that the Huntsman bid is in trouble: gaining scant traction with voters (nationally and in the early-primary states, he is polling in the low single digits), lacking any discernible message, certainly stalled, and maybe stillborn à la Fred Thompson in 2008. Politico describes the Wiles departure as “part of a major campaign shake-up.” A strategist for another campaign dubs the episode the “Huntsman meltdown.”

 

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