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Esquire is teasing its August issue this week, featuring exclusive interviews with former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who will formally enter the Republican presidential fray next Tuesday, as well as with his chief strategist, former John McCain advisor John Weaver.

Huntsman took the leftmost tack on Afghanistan of any Republican candidate except libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul, making even Mitt Romney’s recent statements that we needn’t be fighting a “war of independence” for the Afghanis, but that he would keep U.S. troops in the country per the Pentagon’s advice, seem relatively hawkish:

“If you can’t define a winning exit strategy for the American people, where we somehow come out ahead, then we’re wasting our money, and we’re wasting our strategic resources,” Huntsman told Esquire.  “It’s a tribal state, and it always will be. Whether we like it or not, whenever we withdraw from Afghanistan, whether it’s now or years from now, we’ll have an incendiary situation… Should we stay and play traffic cop? I don’t think that serves our strategic interests.”

Weaver, for his part, decried the “cranks” in the Republican primaries:

Weaver sees Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and the presumed front-runner, as a man afraid to take a stand — or, more accurately, as a man unafraid of taking every stand. “What version are we on now?” Weaver said. “Mitt 5.0? 6.0?”

And in former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, another leading candidate, Weaver sees what he considers the worst tendencies of his party — pandering to the G.O.P.’s hard-right margins at the risk of falling out of serious presidential contention.

Huntsman is setting himself up as the moderate, reasonable alternative to Mitt Romney; but the dynamic of the race is such that Romney will be the moderate, reasonable alternative to whoever emerges from the far-right as the choice of Tea Party activists and evangelicals. Whether there is ideological space for a challenge to Romney from the left will be key in determining whether Huntsman’s campaign is viable. [Esquire]

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