Go Maverick or Go Home

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 25 2011 4:05 PM

Go Maverick or Go Home

[UPDATE: For some reason this post was originally cut off at the top.]

Ross Douthat gets all meta on us and makes a good point about Jon Huntsman. The jump-off: Michael Brendan Dougherty's profile of the former ambassador in the paleocon American Conservative. The unique argument: Maybe Huntsman can shake the trees like Ron Paul did, if, like Paul, he sticks to issues and stances that no one else will touch. Ehhh, says Douthat:

When Paul feuded with Giuliani over foreign policy four years ago, he was separating himself from the pack on an issue that actually mattered, both to the Republican electorate and to the country as a whole. Whereas by casting himself as the candidate of capital-S Science, touting his belief in evolution and global warming, Huntsman is staking out maverick-y positions on issues that matter far more to media-intelligentsia types than to most American voters. Given that this is a recession election, not a culture war election, a candidate trying to successfully brand himself as a “different kind of Republican” would be far better off breaking with conservative orthodoxy on an economic issue — by calling for looser money, maybe, or attacking the totally unpersuasive right-wing conceit that we need to raise taxes on the American working class. Instead, Huntsman is toeing the party line on pocketbook matters, and picking fights on boutique issues that are at best tangentially related to the major controversies of the Great Recession.

Isn't there a caveat? Didn't John McCain beat George W. Bush in 2000 while promoting the boutique-est of the boutique issues, campaign finance reform? Well, sort of, but 2000 was a wholly different kind of election -- one with, apparently, no stakes except winning. McCain ran to Bush's left on taxes, but still favored tax cuts. His on the ground time in the state was more important than the boutique issue -- that issue was useful in getting the media to cover him, but so was the campaign time, and so were the town halls.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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