Michael makes the case for Huntsman’s campaign strategy:
The Huntsman campaign decided early to concede Iowa, believing with good reason at the time that someone like Michelle Bachman or Rick Santorum would win that state. (Bachmann did with the Iowa straw poll.) Romney had done the same thing. Huntsman was trying to force himself into a battle for Mitt Romney’s supporters. But Romney has held steady until recently.
This was a plausible strategy. Huntsman could not “out-conservative” Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum who have an almost tribal identification with the party’s base. But now Huntsman can “out-conservative” Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich – both of whom are technocrats at heart who have been on both sides of most important issues.
There’s no question that Huntsman is more conservative than Romney and Gingrich, and I agree with Michael’s assessment that Huntsman has been competing for Romney’s supporters. This also fairly describes Tim Pawlenty, who pursued a similar strategy to no avail. One could have argued that Pawlenty’s strategy was very plausible, and many people did. On paper, it made sense, but that was the main problem with Pawlenty: his candidacy made sense only on paper. Huntsman’s case is a bit different in that he has intended from the start to fight Romney where he is strongest (New Hampshire) in the hopes of doing to Romney what McCain did to him four years ago. Regardless, the two candidates that have tried hardest to be the non-Romney consensus alternative have been among those generating the least enthusiasm. I don’t think this is an accident. The supporters that Romney has or is likely to have are not interested in a more ideologically reliable candidate. If they were, they would not be inclined to support Romney. Romney’s supporters are not the ones up for grabs. In short, Huntsman has been auditioning for a position that has already been taken.
Michael is right to doubt that Huntsman’s poor polling can be attributed to campaign mistakes. If poll numbers had any relationship to competent campaign organization, Cain and Gingrich would have been in single digits all along. He makes a fair point that Huntsman has made himself available to all media outlets, and he has certainly not shunned conservative media, and it is understandable that a candidate with low national name recognition should want to do this. His low name recognition may account for some of his polling weakness, especially in national polls, and because he is not as well-known as many of the others his political reputation has been unduly shaped by “centrist” admirers and conservative critics. Huntsman’s tenure as ambassador to China is one of the main reasons why fetishists of bipartisanship adore him and many movement conservatives instinctively reject him, and it helps account for why Huntsman provokes the opposite visceral reactions that Palin did.