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Longtime Confidant of Huntsman Is Forced Out of Campaign

Longtime Confidant of Huntsman Is Forced Out of Campaign

By Erin McPike - July 31, 2011


Jon Huntsman has been back from China for only three months, and already has received a rude awakening about the internal politics of national campaigns.

Already on his second campaign manager in three months, Huntsman now has sidelined a longtime family friend whose presence in the campaign became a drag on morale for younger members of the staff. David Fischer, a onetime advance staffer to President Reagan and a former administrator at Jon Huntsman's father's chemical manufacturing company, Huntsman Corp., apparently caused such a disruption at the campaign's Orlando headquarters that the candidate tasked his chief political strategist, John Weaver, with removing Fischer from action.

Internal strife is endemic to presidential political campaigns. And though it's by nature disruptive, how it is resolved can reveal a candidate's managerial skills -- or lack thereof.

John McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, discovered all too well four years ago how staff discord can threaten a candidacy. Conflict among the key McCainiacs -- John Weaver among them -- hurt fundraising and led to a mass exodus the summer before the primaries began. Much of the press corps subsequently wrote the campaign off, but McCain eventually persevered, in part, because he and a cadre of remaining loyalists were freed from the burden of front-runner status.

That certainly isn't Huntsman's problem. The former Utah governor, who returned to the United States this spring after a two-year stint as the Obama administration's handpicked ambassador to China, got off to an uncertain start with an announcement speech remembered for its various minor gaffes. He began his 2012 presidential campaign with very little national name identification, without a running start, and largely minus longtime loyalists whose judgment and instincts he knew and trusted. But he's learning on the fly: The candidate has already replaced his initial campaign manager, Susie Wiles, a Florida operative who helped lay the groundwork, with Matt David, who had been the campaign's communications director. In a second step aimed at gaining control of his operation, Huntsman is peeling away Fischer, a Huntsman confidant who asked for little from the candidate -- and didn't even want a salary -- but who may not be in sync with a new generation of operatives.

One campaign staffer complained to RCP that Fischer fretted to original campaign manager Susie Wiles about staffers who smoked, had tattoos, or were not heterosexual. Fischer denied the accusation, telling RCP in a phone interview Saturday afternoon, "Oh, my gosh, I couldn't care less if someone smokes or drinks." As for some of the other complaints, including the one about sexual orientation, he responded: "I find that comment very offensive. I wasn't around any of these people."

In interviews with several campaign aides, however, it became clear that Fischer's presence was creating tension in an operation that can ill-afford any distractions. At a time when the staffers ought to be focused on doing something -- anything -- to help their candidate into the first tier of competitors, Fischer was a distraction. "He acted like a hall monitor," said one campaign aide. "There was a cloud on morale down there [in Orlando]." In fact, this staff member said, most aides kept their doors closed in the headquarters on the days that Fischer was in the office.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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