Jon Huntsman as Jack Tanner

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 23 2011 9:59 AM

Jon Huntsman as Jack Tanner

Jon Huntsman had a dull Twitter account, pretty typical of politicians who don't care to use the microblogging tool. Then, last week, he decided to make it fun. Taking advantage of an extremely slow news cycle, Huntsman tweeted a diss of Rick Perry:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.
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Followed by a grab at the art-rock vote:

I wonder if a tweet where I admit how much I like Captain Beefheart will make the followers skyrocket even more! http://t.co/1yqlwYA

Since then, more tweets on a fairly regular schedule. Most of them sort of sarcastic. None of them confirmed to be from Huntsman himself. And yet, and yet, the campaign announces that Huntsman has basically doubled his Twitter following (he's got twice as many fans as Thad McCotter, whose quixotic presidential bid was, we were told, a function of his social media popularity), and rolls out the candidate for more interviews than someone at 1 percent in national polls typical gets.

This reveals something we sort of knew: Team Huntsman gets the media. This series of stunts should remind political geeks of Robert Altman's Tanner '88, the 11-part miniseries in which a handsome former congressman from Michigan ran for president and succeeded by being, like, real, man. The Tanner campaign launches with an aimless New Hampshire tour and a schmaltzy video. In this scene, we see a focus group beating the hell out of the ad they've just seen.

Sound like the reaction to Huntsman's odd Statue of Liberty announcement? The fake candidate, Tanner, is well aware of the blunders that have been made so far. His campaign team gathers in a hotel room to strategize. He unloads a monologue about the legacy of liberalism and the limits of modern (1988) American politics. One of his staffers discreetly turns on a camera and tapes the whole thing. Thirty second clips of the speech become the basis of his new campaign: "Jack Tanner: For Real."

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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