Former Utah governor and ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, the conservative Republican who just a few months ago was making a serious bid to steer his party back toward moderation and rationality, has moved from trying to change the GOP from within to mocking it from the sidelines.
In a freewheeling discussion at the 92nd Street Y in upper Manhattan this weekend, he compared the Republican Party to the Chinese Communist governing party and complained about how weak its primary field was.
“This is what they do in China on party matters, they punish you, if you talk off script,” he said of the GOP disinviting him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he suggested a third party might do the American political system some good.
“Is this the best we could do?” Huntsman claims he asked himself when standing on the debate stage with his Republican rivals.
And while he certainly did his best to brush the comments off when asked about them on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Monday (see the video below), conversations with seasoned GOP operatives suggest Huntsman has sealed his fate when it comes to national Republican politics.
“This is a guy who’s pouring gasoline on his political career and setting it on fire,” said Rick Wilson, a veteran Florida-based Republican consultant.
Huntsman was careful to endorse his fellow Mormon and presumptive nominee Mitt Romney as the sane moderate in the field after a third-place showing in the New Hampshire presidential primary sent him packing. But the plug was far from enthusiastic — Huntsman and Romney despise each other — and lobbing grenades from the sidelines isn’t going over well in a party that hates sore losers.
“There’s obviously a seething rivalry there, and Huntsman is letting it get the best of him,” said Rob Stutzman, the California-based GOP strategist behind Arnold Schwarzenegger’s successful gubernatorial campaigns. “John McCain and George Bush were never big fans of each other but they were always able to consolidate at the right time. Huntsman has somewhat failed at that test, starting with that tepid endorsement when he dropped out of the race.”
Rather than reaching out to moderates as Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator who has worked with the center-right American Action Network and the bipartisan U.S. Global Leadership Coalition since losing his re-election bid to Al Franken in 2008, has done, Huntsman is venting his frustration. And for all his talk of science and reason, his behavior dumbfounds political professionals.
“He is doing his level-best to piss off enough people to disqualify himself forever from Republican politics,” said Wilson. “If he wants to be part of the Republican and conservative movement, this is certainly not the way any rational person would pursue those goals.”
Here’s the video of Huntsman discussing his attacks on the GOP, courtesy of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe”: