Saturday, February 11, 2012

Valentine's Day Wishes and Whatever Became of Jon Huntsman?

Valentine’s Day Wishes and Whatever Became of Jon Huntsman?

There’s a wonderful old Tom Lehrer ditty “Whatever Became of Hubert” which tells the sad tale of Hubert Humphrey, once an esteemed Senator from Minnesota, then relegated to the non-descript job of Lyndon Johnson’s Vice-President.  He must have felt kinship to one of George Steinbrenner’s limited partners, who once was quoted as saying, “nothing is more limited than being one of George’s limited partners.”

For some reason, the composer of “Poisoning Pigeons in The Park” came to mind after Rick Santorum destroyed Mitt Romney in Missouri, Colorado, and Minnesota.  I understand Missouri (cultural conservatism) and even Colorado (strong anti-government sentiment). But Minnesota?  Where former Governor and all-round Minnesota Nice Tim Pawlenty endorsed Romney and campaigned for him?  The place where Mary Tyler Moore turned the world on with her smile?  And Mitt won Minnesota in 2008, nearly doubling McCain, who was a distant second.  Just how does a bilious ex-Senator from Pennsylvania who lost his last election by 18 points, and by all contemporary accounts, was neither loved nor admired in either chamber during his time in Washington, kick Mitt hard, three times, in the same evening?

The Romney people, cool cats though they may be (some apparently meditate before a DVD of Romney’s hair, perfect and unruffled in a breeze) are searching for answers.  I think I may have found one. 

Blame Jon Huntsman.  It’s really his fault.  Before Mitt was dubbed the “Massachusetts Moderate” Huntsman was out there sounding reasonable, and calm, and speaking with deliberation and intelligence about foreign affairs, and bringing the country together to solve big problems. Huntsman is, in practice, distinctly right of center (somehow, “Utah Liberal” doesn’t have the same alliterative ring) and if Republican primary voters had actually taken the time to look at his views, they might very well have found a genuine, consistent conservative. But for various reasons, including the sin of serving in the Obama Administration, they didn’t, and Huntsman was relegated to the single digits, and then the possible role of Secretary of State in a Romney Administration.  Huntsman, not Mitt, defined the left flank, and needless to say, utterly failed.

So, when all the GOP heavyweights decided, for whatever reason, that 2012 was not going to be their year, and Huntsman was shown the door, we were left with a virtual bayou of red.  Mitt knew it.  How does one distinguish oneself as sufficiently carmine to win the hearts and minds of the GOP Primary voter?  Where on the spectrum can you go?  There’s Brick Red (solid, makes you think of the Indianapolis, heartland, good Conservative values, very anti-union).  And there’s Tuscan Red (all wrong, if you think of it, Tuscany is in Italy, making it so…. European).  There’s Cardinal (that could work, with Mr. Obama stepping squarely into a self-made mess).  There’s also “Lust” (let’s skip that, out of deference to Newt).  Fuchsia and Cerise?  Not a chance, for obvious reasons.  Scarlett might work for Santorum-he’s the kind of guy you think might go for branding of sinners.  Wine and Burgundy are both nice dark reds, but they do tend to conjure up both France and California, hotbeds of socialism and anti-Americanism.  “Flame” is not so bad-shows passion for eradicating every last vestige of infectious Obamaism.

This problem with hue and tint wasn’t the only concern Mitt had.  The routs in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri also came at a particularly infelicitous time, because this weekend is CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (sort of like a grim Woodstock for the Right).

For Santorum and Gingrich, this is the festival of free love with red-blooded Americans spewing red meat.  But, what’s a Mitt to do when, let’s be honest, his past does tend towards the dangerously pastel?  Well, you can enthusiastically repudiate your entire record, but, this is a very tough crowd, and that type of absolution is only granted for sins of the flesh and pocketbook.  You can rail at everything Obama (but they have already replaced the elevator music at the Marriott Wardman Park with a continuous loop of Fox).

You need something fresh and bold, so Mitt’s crack staff went into a huddle, and some of the best minds in the country dug down deep.  They even sent an aide off to the local Neiman Marcus to shop for lipsticks.  With the mission to buy only American, she eschewed Chanel and L’Oreal, and headed straight for the Clinique counter.   One hour, and several hundred Super Pac dollars later, she came back with “All Heart”, “Fire Berry”, “Rich Red”, “Whoppin Watermelon”, “Plum Nude”, “Warm Raisin” and “Baby Kiss”.  For fairly obvious reasons, some of these were discarded quickly.  “All Heart” and “Baby Kiss” were put away for different events (somehow, CPAC didn’t seem to be the right venue).

Visuals clearly just weren’t going to work.  Time was running off the clock, and Mitt was scheduled to speak.  It was too late to assemble a focus group, so they told him to ad lib.  He took a deep breath, looked out at the skeptical crowd, and pronounced himself “severely conservative.”

“Severely Conservative?”  Not great.  Not selling either the CPAC folk, nor good for the wider electorate.  It does sound a little like a Milk of Magnesia ad.  Back to the drawing board in the Romney war room.  Life was so much better when he wasn’t the only lefty. 

Whatever Became of Jon Huntsman?  Has anyone heard from him?