Jon Huntsman, the Utah governor who’s positioned himself as the moderate GOP alternative in 2012 by coming out in favor of civil unions? The RINO-in-chief, in other words?

That’s the one.

While no republican presidential candidate yet makes Obama’s team “shake in {their} shoes…,” President Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe, now says Governor Jon Huntsman makes him, a “wee bit queasy…I think he’s really out there speaking a lot of truth about the direction of the party.”

To which Kirk Jowers of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics says, “Huntsman has positioned himself in a great place right now because he is the only presidential candidate really running in the middle right now.”

Huntsman spent the weekend in Michigan which is a key G.O.P. primary state.

And Jowers – who has advised three republican presidential candidates – says Huntsman has now, “…become a top five candidate for 2012.”

Reportedly he’s also being advised by former McCain guru John Weaver. Three possible motives for Plouffe to say what he said:

1. It’s true: Huntsman really does make him nervous.

2. Reverse psychology: Huntsman doesn’t make him nervous, but if enough dopey Republicans think he does, maybe they’ll nominate him and it’ll be an easy kill for The One.

3. Reverse reverse psychology: Huntsman does make him nervous, in which case it’s important to kneecap him as soon as possible. Plouffe, being no dummy, knows that Rush et al. will simply assume that he’s practicing briar-patch reverse psychology and will immediately start to tear Huntsman down as a scarecrow whom the Dems would love to face, thereby demonizing him among the Republican base and ruining his chances before the campaign even begins.

Which is it? Also, how does Huntsman hope to capture the nomination with the base favoring a return to Reaganism as the solution to Hopenchange? Presumably his strategy is 2008 redux: Count on Palin, Romney, Huck, and maybe Sanford splitting the social cons amongst themselves while winning all the Brooksian center-rightists for himself. I hope he does run; I’m curious to see just how many of those Brooksians there are.

Update: Ambinder thinks Plouffe is on the level and that Huntsman’s for real, given the early primaries in moderate-leaning states like New Hampshire and Florida. That’s super, but how does Huntsman challenge Obama in the general with who knows how many Christian conservatives staying home out of objection to a nominee who supports civil unions (and who happens to be Mormon)? Are we sure Plouffe doesn’t want to face him?