Is Jon Huntsman mulling a some sort of independent or third party run for President? This headline, over at the State seems pretty definitive: "Jon Huntsman open to exploring third-party bid." This primes me, as the reader, to expect to see some sort of definitive statement from Huntsman that suggests he is in fact open to the idea.
The lede continues to set this expectation:
Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman is reportedly exploring a third-party bid for president, according to the Boston Globe.
Okay! He told the Boston Globe something! Be still, my beating heart, let's find out what that is:
Asked if there is any situation in which he would run for president as an independent, Mr. Huntsman told reportedly told The Boston Globe, “I don’t think so.”
Uhm ... what? I look over that sentence a few more times, looking for something I may have missed, because it looks for all the world that the answer to the question "is any situation in which he would run for president as an independent?" is "I don't think so." This tends to suggest the lack of openness to the idea of mounting an independent bid.
But, you know, "I don't think so," is also a statement that fails to preclude all existential possibilities. Can we get some clarity?
“I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m running as a Republican, and I fully anticipate that that’s where we’re going to be,” the Utah Republican said.
Again, I'm reading this and hearing a pretty loud "No." But let's go back to the Boston Globe itself. Their headline: "Jon Huntsman refuses to rule out possibility of independent candidacy for president." And the salient part, I suppose, is this:
Told that anything but a flat denial could perpetuate speculation about the possibility, Huntsman replied: “I’m a lifelong Republican. I’m running as a Republican, and I fully anticipate that that’s where we’re going to be.”
Right, so here's what's going on. Huntsman clearly has not had much thought on the matter at all, but his refusal to play the little journalistic game that the Globe puts forward earns him a headline in which he's said to be "refusing to rule out" something there's no evidence he's even considered doing. Huntsman literally did not rule it out hard enough. And when you pose this question to Huntsman, he has to go through the physiological process of providing an answer. Yes, this means that at a neuro-chemical level, Huntsman is "thinking about it," but that does not mean he is actually thinking about it on a conscious level.
Obviously we've seen the same sort of thing in recent months with Chris Christie, who despite stipulating time and again he wasn't going to run for President, ultimately had to give an hour-long press conference where he gave the same answer over and over again. Christie literally had to grind the media down into a state of ennui in order to get them to accept that what he'd been saying all along was what he'd been saying all along.
Here's a guide to what people who actually are considering third party runs sound like:
1. They say things like: "I feel abandoned by" their own political party.
"I feel abandoned by the Republican Party," Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson told the Santa Fe New Mexican. "The Republican Party has left me by the wayside," he added.
2. They have specific things to say about what 'party' or political apparatus might welcome them as a candidate.
Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican reports: "Johnson said there have been 'overtures made' by the Libertarian Party."
Fellow Republican presidential candidate Buddy Roemer told Fox News' Neil Cavuto: "It would be a unity ticket. It's called Americans Elect is the idea."
3. They can get even more specific, when you ask them to speak about specifics.
Here's more from Cavuto's interview with Roemer:
CAVUTO: Who would you hook up with?
ROEMER: Well, I'm not prepared to say yet. I need to give that more thought. However ...
CAVUTO: Obviously, I thought you would have done your homework before you got here, Governor.
CAVUTO: No, I'm kidding. But, I mean, you have mentioned -- Joe Lieberman's name comes up.
ROEMER: Joe Lieberman is a name, Erskine Bowles.
CAVUTO: So you want not a liberal Democrat, a more moderate type Democrat.
ROEMER: Yes. Erskine Bowles of Simpson-Bowles.
See, it's expressions of discontent with one's party -- and the ability to demonstrate that you have thought a minimal amount about specific details -- that lend credence to the notion that one is actually exploring a third-party run. This is not what Jon Huntsman sounds like when he discusses these matters. Nevertheless, the Globe insists, "The former Utah governor has faced persistent speculation about an independent candidacy." They can say that because they are the ones persistently speculating about Huntsman's independent candidacy. (They also may have run into someone at a cocktail party who said, "Jon Huntsman would make an intriguing independent candidate, maybe.")
Also fueling this "persistent speculation" is that time Politico's readers plucked up Jon Huntsman and put him in their "Politico Primary" -- a fake contest the newspaper ran for giggles back in mid-October. The end result was that Huntsman -- the only person in that field of 10 people who has actually expressed an interest in becoming president -- finished third. At some point in the future, Jon Huntsman might actually start talking like a person who is actually considering an independent bid for the White House. His finish in the "Politico Primary" should give him a clue about how successful he's likely to be.
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