It’s identity politics, and Huntsman is identifying as a liberal or a moderate. That MSNBC hosts and liberal writers fall for this trick is telling, but just as telling is how much conservatives also buy into it.

The depth of the Republican base’s immersion in identity politics first struck me when Christine O’Donnell began to surge past liberal Mike Castle in the 2010 Republican Senate primary in Delaware. Conservative writers who criticized O’Donnell’s ethics, temperament, seriousness, or electability were blistered as RINOs (Republicans in name only) by radio hosts, emailers and commenters.

The same attacks befell those of us who criticized Newt Gingrich for lobbying for bigger government. “RINO” once applied to Republicans who held many liberal views. It’s come to mean any conservative who criticizes the politician who most stridently identifies himself as a conservative — even when we’re criticizing the politician for being liberal.

Huntsman chose to play the game of identity politics, and it hurt him. There’s an apt saying that voters don’t need to like a candidate, they just need to believe that the candidate will like them.