I mean apart from the candidate himself, of course, who strode through the Republican primary process like an long-jilted boyfriend attending the wedding of a high-school sweetheart trying to prove that the bride was making a terrible mistake. It didn’t take long for consensus to form online as to who gets the blame, both for Jon Huntsman’s failure and for convincing Huntsman to make a fool of himself in the first place. Ben Smith at BuzzFeed says to look no further than John McCain’s old campaign adviser, John Weaver:
Weaver, a rangy, 52-year old Texan has a storied and controversial career in Republican politics, and now an uncertain future. And the Huntsman campaign is the latest and purest version of a strategy that he’s been pressing since he was at John McCain’s right hand in 2000: A Republican campaign that embraces the mainstream media, sets itself against elements of conservative dogma, and builds a coalition of moderate Republicans and independents that – if it could only survive the primary – would be formidable in a general election. The campaign’s birth in baroque intrigue and its high-level infighting are also Weaver signatures.
“You get a lot of good out of the guy, you get a lot of brilliance out of the guy – but you get a lot of dysfunction out of the guy,” a Republican who has often worked with Weaver said Sunday night, after the news of Huntsman’s departure had broken. Members of Huntsman’s family blame what they saw as a debacle on Weaver, the Republican said. “It’s really going to get ugly.”
To Weaver’s critics, he’s a “Svengali,” as one said, persuading a wealthy, talented former governor to blow his money and his name on a lost cause. To his admirers, Weaver had the right strategy — to nip Romney in New Hampshire – and a message that would have made Huntsman formidable in November, and was let down by the candidate and his wealthy father.
“This should have been a well-funded campaign,” said a Weaver ally. “There was no reason this should be a penniless campaign.” (Weaver’s June monthly retainer from Huntsman was $20,000; it had declined to $14,500 by fall, according to the most recently financial disclosure report, filed in October.)
It wasn’t the funding that was the problem. It was the fact that Republicans got the clear message from Huntsman and the campaign that the candidate really didn’t like Republicans. Huntsman didn’t hide his disdain during the debates, and Weaver made that an explicit message for the campaign:
But the core complaint about Weaver’s strategy – which seems to have matched Huntsman’s own views – is that the consultant was running for the nomination of a party whose leaders and members he seemed to view at times with disdain.
“”There’s a simple reason our party is nowhere near being a national governing party,” Weaver told Esquire in June. “No one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.”
Conservatives obviously disagree. First, the GOP did pretty well in 2010 without much help from either Weaver or Huntsman, flipping more House seats in a midterm election than any other in the last 72 years. Second, we tried the Democrat Lite approach from 2001-6, and it resulted in significant growth in spending and regulation and the loss of both chambers of Congress to actual Democrats.
As far as dysfunction, that was apparent to the very end. How did the senior staff find out about Huntsman’s decision? One had to hear it from a Romney adviser:
Huntsman decided “days ago” — shortly after the New Hampshire primary — that he would not go on with his campaign, according to a high-level source close to the campaign.
Senior staffers in South Carolina say the campaign struggled to get Huntsman to campaign in the state following his third-place finish in New Hampshire. They say the campaign had no infrastructure in the state and suffered from lack of resources and communication issues. Not even signs had arrived yet from New Hampshire. Many volunteers had no work assigned to them. …
NBC’s Garrett Haakereports that Huntsman’s campaign advance director was told the candidate was dropping out by a Romney staffer, who had been told by an NBC reporter minutes earlier. According to that Romney staffer, Huntsman campaign staff were at the debate walk through (there’s a debate tomorrow night) asking “real” questions and were seemingly fully involved.
Much, if not all, of the Romney campaign team was also unaware — despite Huntsman endorsing him tomorrow. The campaign’s political director, for example, found out via a news alert.
David Freddoso has it correct. The next Republican who hires John Weaver should be considered to have conducted an act of self-identification as unelectable and unsupportable.