Jon Huntsman: They pick corn in Iowa; they pick presidents in New Hampshire

Here’s a recipe for success in any realm: Work hard and stay humble. If that little dictum describes any of the GOP candidates’ approach to the campaign, it’s not Jon Huntsman’s. Not only did he decide to bypass Iowa, but he won’t even take responsibility for that decision. Today, on “The Early Show” on CBS, Huntsman made it sound as though it was Iowa’s fault that he chose not to compete there. If only Iowa were more significant, he suggested, he’d’ve made an effort. reports:

Former U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman is defending his refusal to compete in the leadoff Iowa Republican precinct caucuses, focusing instead on New Hampshire.

Huntsman tells CBS’s “The Early Show” the formula, so far as he is concerned, is quite elementary. Says Huntsman: “They pick corn in Iowa. They actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire.”

That’s flattering to New Hampshire residents, but horribly insulting to Iowans — and reflects the kind of condescension and patronization that has turned so many GOP voters off of Jon Huntsman — whose views otherwise are really rather reflective of many Americans. While Huntsman was the governor of Utah, he nevertheless betrays a kind of coastal elitism that perceives flyover country as inconsequential.

It’s not that what he said is inaccurate, exactly. Actually, as the progressive Ed Kilgore charmingly relates in this column, the winner of the Iowa caucuses often doesn’t become the nominee or president — and the importance of Iowa is a little exasperating to plenty of folks who follow politics:

Most political junkies have a love-hate relationship with the Great Corn Idol of the caucuses, and I’m no exception. Iowa’s status makes sense only in the context of a country with weak national political parties and the habit of letting states make a host of decisions that sub-national jurisdictions do not make in most advanced democracies. No one designing a presidential nominating contest from scratch would choose to force candidates to spend months if not years trudging through the pot-luck dinners and “house parties” and county fundraisers and ideological or interest-group vetting “forums” of a relatively small and notably non-diverse midwestern state, or risk being obliterated by failing to win “tickets out of Iowa” to later primaries and caucuses. Iowa’s primacy represents a strategic and tactical nightmare for campaigns, and an affront to the rest of the country.

But let’s face it, the Iowa caucuses are fun, if only because they are so regularly humiliating to the candidates who have seen a future POTUS in the bathroom mirror each morning since elementary school. Back in 1980, the man who was destined to become the secular saint of the conservative movement and the Republican Party, Ronald Reagan, entered the room at every Iowa event to the strains of “Hail to the Chief.” He lost Iowa that year to George H.W. Bush, who in turn finished third in Iowa in 1988 when he was the “inevitable” nominee, finishing behind a televangelist. Both men eventually won the nomination and the presidency, but only after eating a lot of crow and firing a few big-name political advisers.

That’s it, really. By refusing to participate in Iowa, Huntsman is just confirming that he refuses to be humbled. No matter how poorly he polls, Huntsman continues his campaign convicted of his unique appeal and deriving satisfaction from the approval of critics, those nebulous self-appointed arbiters of culture who very often don’t know a good thing when they see it and often mistake fool’s good for the real thing.

Meantime, Rick Santorum’s surge in Iowa is at least partly explained by his adherence to the “work hard, stay humble” maxim. The Fix’s Chris Cillizza breaks it down:

Of all the candidates running for president, Santorum has taken the most traditional path to success in Iowa; he’s absolutely lavished the state with attention. Santorum has been working the state relentlessly for the past year, having visited all 99 counties and done the sort of small-group gatherings that Iowans have, at least in past years, responded well to.

“I think of him as the tortoise in the tortoise and hare fable,” said Becky Beach, a longtime Iowa operative who is unaffiliated in this race. “He’s been steadfast throughout the Iowa process and I think the benefits of his strategy will pay off for him.”

Santorum’s Iowa surge doesn’t erase his electability problems — but I should think it might help a little with his likability problem. What is more likable than quiet effort and thoughtful interaction? The different approaches Huntsman and Santorum have taken to Iowa keenly illustrate that, while the two have polled together at the back of the pack, they’re nevertheless very different men. I’d love to see Santorum’s diligence rewarded.