Top Democrats: Huntsman is the Republican we fear most

He’s a centristy maverick with foreign policy chops — and you know how well those types do against Barack Obama in national elections.

Top Democrats in and outside the White House, speaking on background so they could be more candid, suggest that former US Ambassador to China and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would be the GOP candidate President Obama would least like to face in 2012 — but they think he can’t win the nomination.

The very qualities that make Huntsman formidable in November 2012 — his centrism and bipartisanship — will work against him in Iowa and South Carolina, Democrats say…

The president has told friends he “caught lightning in a bottle” in 2008, and even catching every break, Obama only won with 53% of the vote, with 47% of the country voting against him — a number Democrats say isn’t going to go down in 2012, with an economy still on the mend, high unemployment and skyrocketing gas prices.

It’ll be taken as a given that this is some sort of crude experiment in reverse psychology, aimed at convincing conservatives to nominate a guy who’s easy pickings for Obama in the general election instead of, oh, say, Michele Bachmann. (Rush Limbaugh dismissed the media’s interest in Mitch Daniels on those grounds just a few days ago.) If that’s the case, though, why does the White House semi-jokingly tout Huntsman’s service as ambassador at every turn knowing that the link to Obama is poisonous to him in the primaries? More to the point, why did they offer him the ambassadorship in the first place? That move was intended in part from the very beginning to take him out of contention for 2012. If they want him to win, they should frame him as being fundamentally hostile to The One and his foreign policy and maybe more confrontational with China than they preferred in order to give him a Trumpian “bravado boost” among the base. If they think he’s a tin can, they should be setting him up to win by polishing his anti-Obama cred.

As for the “reverse psychology” argument, if conservatives were given a choice of facing Mark Warner or Bernie Sanders in a national election, I assume most would prefer to face the latter since, as a leftist, he’d have a tougher time capturing independents than a centrist like Warner would. That’s not us using reverse psychology on the left, it’s simple recognition that elections tend to be won in the middle provided that the nominee isn’t so far to the center that his/her base won’t turn out in big numbers. That’s no problem for the GOP in 2012; disgust with Obama runs so deep that grassroots righties will be out in droves no matter who the pick is. In which case, it’s not so much “reverse psychology” by the left that points them towards Huntsman, it’s conventional wisdom about not wanting to face someone who can poach votes from indies that they need when they already have to worry about gigantic turnout among the anti-Obama grassroots. None of that really matters in this particular case — Huntsman doesn’t have a prayer in the primaries — but electability will be a factor for voters when picking a nominee. The flattery he’s getting on the left is really just their awareness of that, knowing that he’s dead in the water already.

Speaking of electability, here’s Trump trying to reframe himself in a post-Birther landscape.