The Media's Bizarre Infatuation with Jon Huntsman

I’m not sure what this could mean

I don’t think you’re what you seem

I do admit to myself

That if I hurt someone else

Then I’ll never see just what we’re meant to be

— New Order, Bizarre Love Triangle

Well it’s official – the mainstream media now has a candidate in the GOP primary race. How else to explain the absurd level of coverage the media has granted to Jon Huntsman? A candidate who has consistently polled in the low single digits since rumors of his candidacy first appeared. A candidate who up until a few weeks ago was virtually unknown even amongst politically active conservatives. Case in point, a pollster in Iowa surveyed 481 registered Republicans in late May and only 1 respondent (a 2008 Obama voter, naturally) indicated that they would vote for Huntsman. Not even 1% – just one!

And yet this is the candidate whom Time has already deemed the “candidate Democrats most fear,” and whom the National Journal is inexplicably calling a “formidable contender.” Then there is the New York Times which recently devoted 6000 words describing how Huntsman is uniquely suited to fill the “vacuum” left, I guess, by the six-to-seven other qualified candidates in the race. And where would Huntsman be without Politico, which has effectively served as Huntsman’s campaign website in waiting, running literally hundreds of features, articles, and blurbs about him in just the past month alone?

Yes, to many in the mainstream media Jon Huntsman is apparently the Most Interesting Man in the World. (He once dropped out of high school to play in a rock band. He speaks Mandarin Chinese, and Hokkien. His blood smells like cologne.) And given that Huntsman has nowhere to go but up in the polls, it’s safe to assume I think that this is only the beginning of the media’s love affair. Just wait until you see the fawning that will ensue after the next debate when Huntsman ever-so-calmly and politely declines to engage in any meaningful critiques of the President. I can feel the tingle up Chris Matthews’ leg already.

So what gives – why so much crazy media love for Huntsman? The obvious answer of course is that in Huntsman the liberal-leaning media sees a reflection of many of their own views. He’s a Republican who doesn’t sound like all the other “crazy” Republicans. He says things they actually like (from a Republican) about civility and compromise. He’s the “adult in the room.”

Or perhaps you like your media conspiracy theories, in which case it must be that word came down from on high that Huntsman is the most easily beatable candidate. And so all the Journolisters have been called back into action to drum up support for Huntsman.

While there is plenty of evidence to support the former theory at least (I’m not big on conspiracies), I think there is another factor in play. Call me crazy, but in the media’s fervor over Huntsman I detect a hint of yearning amongst the press corps for a more unique and authentic brand of politician – and campaign. Especially among the rabble of reporters assigned the political beat, many of whom are young and still-idealistic, and who are expected to come up with fresh story angles while writing about the same boring candidates, and the same tired arguments, day in and day out. Even a part-time blogger can feel their pain.

With Huntsman, like with Obama, the liberal media picked up very quickly on the fact that Huntsman was going to be a Different Type of Candidate. And say what you want about Huntsman and his views, but he comes across as pretty authentic, more genuine at least than the average politician. His campaign has certainly worked very hard to present him this way, and for the purposes of this discussion all that matters is that the media sees him as such. And they do! Not just because of his demeanor, but also because he says so many things they agree with, hence he must be telling the truth.

Which takes this argument full circle, I know. But what I am suggesting is that the media’s coverage of Huntsman is explained not just by the fact they find him so relatable, but rather it’s this combined with an unspoken projection of their hope that Huntsman will live up to the expectations he has set. It’s more this latter element, I suggest, which explains the ridiculously disproportionate level of coverage Huntsman has received compared to the other candidates in the race. They want to believe in him. Because in a Huntsman campaign, they sense an opportunity to recapture some of the enthusiasm, the magic they experienced in 2007-2008 while covering the last candidate they were hopelessly in love with.

And as implausible as it may seem, I think many in the media have become disillusioned in their infatuation with Obama. There have been too many broken promises, and just a little too much arrogance emanating from the White House for too long. Their affection has been taken for granted.

Thus a new flirtation was probably inevitable, especially with someone who seemingly embodies so much of what they originally loved about Obama. The intelligence, the quiet confidence, and the aura of genuine hipness which can only come from someone comfortable enough in their own skin to wear a leather jacket while campaigning as a Republican. But more than anything the media sees (or projects) in Huntsman an overriding sense of authenticity, that he genuinely wants to transcend partisan politics to solve the nation’s problems (with liberal solutions).

But alas, we know how this story is likely to end. Huntsman like all other politicians before him is not what he seems, and will inevitably disappoint. No one with the ego required to run for President can possibly be as authentic as they would have you believe. And with a campaign that has already branded him the no “flip-flop” candidate, the road ahead for Huntsman is littered with land mines. He’s on record attesting that climate change is a “grave threat” to the human race, but has backed off the solutions he has long advocated and no longer wants to even talk about it. He wants to claim credit for enacting healthcare reform in Utah without mandates, yet is on record stating that any “serious attempt” to reform healthcare for the nation requires them. His campaign is calling him “forever pro-life,” yet he is still harboring the secret that he has been a past supporter of embryonic stem cell research.

Even if he somehow manages to overcome these challenges, and a considerable number of others including the fact that no one knows who he is, the affair is simply doomed. In this tea-party driven election cycle, even Huntsman will probably have to swing too far to the right, and sacrifice his veil of media-sanctioned “authenticity” for the support of enough base conservatives. And if by some miracle he actually wins the Republican nomination, and the media is forced to choose between their present and past objects of affection. Well, is there any doubt how this will end up?

No Republican, not even one who rides a motorcycle, will ever be afforded the media stamp of authenticity, of coolness. Not when the race is against a Democrat, and not when their affection for this particular Democrat runs so deep. No, in spite of all their grievances, and Obama’s callous disregard for the critical role they played in getting him into the White House, they will return, without hesitation and without remorse, to their one true love.

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