Political Animal


January 16, 2012 12:35 PM After running attack ads, Huntsman decries ‘toxicity’

By Steve Benen

As expected, Jon Huntsman left the race for the Republican presidential nomination this morning, but as he “suspended” his campaign, the former governor took some time to decry candidate “attacks.”

That would be the same Jon Huntsman whose campaign said recently that Ron Paul had ideas out of “The Twilight Zone” and whose super PAC ran hundreds of thousands of dollars in New Hampshire ads calling Mitt Romney a “chameleon.”

But Huntsman clearly wants to exit the race as he entered it, viewed as a candidate almost too good and too pure for presidential politics.

“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation’s history. This is the most important election of our lifetime,” Huntsman said in Myrtle Beach. “The current toxic forum of our political discourse does not help our cause.”

Reasonable people can certainly have a conversation about the impact and level of campaign vitriol — I’d argue the 2012 race for the GOP nomination has been mild to a surprising degree — but it’s awfully convenient for Huntsman to suddenly discover the importance of the high ground.

He has, after all, spent month running plenty of negative ads — many of which, incidentally, Huntsman is now trying to hide from public view.

The Salt Lake Tribune published a DNC oppo dump this morning, noting months of rhetorical Huntsman shots at Mitt Romney, including attacks on the frontrunner’s flip-flops, accusations that Romney is “unelectable” and lacking a “core,” questions about whether voters can trust Romney to keep his word, and calling Romney’s record on job creation “abysmal.”

Maybe Huntsman isn’t the ideal spokesperson for condemning “negative attacks”?

As for why Huntsman would endorse Romney after levying so many attacks at him — some as recently as a few days ago — Kevin Drum’s take sounds right to me: “[A]fter the savaging he’s given Romney, turning around so quickly sure does make him look like a guy who was just throwing lots of anti-Romney crap against the wall whether he believed it or not.”

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 12:44 PM:


    I wonder how old Mitt will treat him after Huntsman basically gave the Obama team a whole bunch of talking points and ads with which they can pound him?

    I see an Ambassadorship to Nauru in Huntsman's future.

    Or, Under-under-under Secretary of the Interior.

    Whichever hurts Huntsman more.

  • Gandalf on January 16, 2012 12:50 PM:

    Jesus Steve your turning into another mindless doofus. How can those ads by huntsman be considered negative attack ads if they're true?

  • TCinLA on January 16, 2012 1:00 PM:

    The good thing is, Huntsman and Gingrich have given us all kinds of nice "bi-partisan" critiques of Willard, to fire at him this summer.

  • DAY on January 16, 2012 1:06 PM:

    And Queen sang, "And another one bites the dust".

    -in 2016 voters will ask, "Jon who?"

  • ComradeAnon on January 16, 2012 1:07 PM:

    And we'll see the same thing when Newt exits.

  • James on January 16, 2012 1:17 PM:

    This "negative attack" conceit gets downright silly. It's a "negative attack" to point out that someone's proposed policy positions are batshit crazy? I mean, don't we *want* that? How does a candidate say in a positive way that his opponent has serious character flaws, that another is certifiable, that quite another is lying through his ass?

    Actually, I thought it was a *good* thing that Huntsman -- the ONLY not-insane person in the race, the only one who wasn't a lying-ass huckster -- was willing to point out some of these flaws.

  • Werewolf on January 16, 2012 1:22 PM:

    @c u n d gulag-
    Maybe he can be ambassador to Ubecki-becki-becki-becki-stan-stan

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 1:34 PM:

    I'm confused. Benen has spent the better part of the last 6 months running attack ads, mostly against Romney. Not only hasn't Benen criticized the ads, but he defended them as "true" and has repeatedly pointed out that it would be simple for Team Obama to repurpose the ads merely by lopping off the end part that mentions Romney.

    Now Benen wants to suggest that Huntsman cannot decry "personal attacks".

    I'm with James. I have no problem with "negative" ads. The question is always whether such ads are deceptively unfair or sleazy. Calling Romney a flip-flopper or calling Ron Paul's ideas out of the Twilight Zone doesn't exactly put Huntsman in Willie Horton territory. (Personally, I don't find Paul's ideas -- though I largely don't agree with them -- to be any more in the Twilight Zone than Huntsman wearing magic undies, but we can agree to disagree)

    Not living in Iowa or NH, I can't say that I have seen all or even most of the GOP ads. But if Huntsman thinks that some are too "personal" or "toxic", I hardly think that makes him a hypocrite just because he went after Romney's record as a governor.

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 1:39 PM:


  • AK Liberal on January 16, 2012 1:39 PM:

    @Gandalf & James, it's a negative ad because it talks up the bad things about Romney instead of the good things about Huntsman. It's an attack because it impugns Romney's credibility as a candidate. The veracity of the claims in the ad have nothing to do with its style or format.

  • SadOldVet on January 16, 2012 1:46 PM:

  • Peter C on January 16, 2012 1:53 PM:

    Thanks for the laughs, Jon. Now, get out of the kitchen.

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 1:58 PM:

    How can those ads by huntsman be considered negative attack ads if they're true?

    The answer is that Steve Benen looks through everything through a partisan prism. When Huntsman was in the race and attacking Romney, it was in the best interest of Obama and the Democrats to agree with Huntsman. Now that Huntsman has exhausted his usefulness to the Democrats and will likely not be seen again until 2016, should he decide to run again, it serves the best interest of the Democrats to smear him as a typically dirty campaigner.

    Frankly, I have no problem with the Democrats doing this. That's politics. It ain't bean bag, as they say.

    What I take issue with is the Washington Monthly, which presents itself as a journalistic enterprise even if an ideological one, so shamelessly acting in the service of a single political party.

  • MNRD on January 16, 2012 2:00 PM:

    It is because of the abject weakness of Romney's rivals that Huntsman has endorsed Romney immediately upon dropping out. It's not that Huntsman suddenly thinks that Romney is Mr. Wonderful, it's that Huntsman thinks that Romney's rivals are WORSE than Romney - and from Huntsman's point of view that assessment makes perfect sense.

    Huntsman's ad mocking Paul was arguably his worst political mistake. Huntsman should have grabbed the opening created by the massive gap between the Paul non-interventionalists and the neo-conservatives instead of needlessly alienating Paul and his supporters.

  • Highguy on January 16, 2012 2:11 PM:

    The "most important election of our lifetime" was when the Supreme Court gave the presidency to G.W. Bush proving that this democracy we have been told we live in might very well actually be some real estate Ponzi scheme.

    That's pretty gosh darn important to me. Voting out the first black president ain't got shit on what the Scalia mafia did in 2000, Jonnie.

  • ManOutOfTime on January 16, 2012 2:28 PM:

    Of course he was slinging a bunch of mud he didn't believe: he was pretending to run for president, for Pete's sake!

  • lou on January 16, 2012 2:41 PM:

    The one stinging criticism that Huntsman laid on Romney that has not gained any traction in the media addressed the fact that none of Romney's sons have served in the military. Considering how forcefully Romney has attacked Obama on national defense there is still time and opportunity for this boot to find its way home -- up Romney's ass and up the crawl of all the poor, southern, rural, and hispanic families who have sacrificed in the defense of ...

  • AK Liberal on January 16, 2012 2:42 PM:

    The answer is that Steve Benen looks through everything through a partisan prism.

    You say that like its a bad thing.

    Shorter square1: Steve's opinions get my knickers in a twist.

  • Rick B on January 16, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Look, Huntsman has known for some time that he was not going to defeat Romney and get the nomination. But the history of Republican Politics is that the nominee for the current election is someone who ran for the nomination in a previous election.

    Huntsman has his name recognition and his "I ran before" creds with the Party. Now he bails out and announces his support for the candidate supported by the Republican elites. He has to do that to get their support for the nomination in 2016.

    If Huntsman did not support the nominee of the party elites this year then in 2016 he'd get the kind of treatment Gingrich has gotten when he reached the point where he appeared to threaten the anointed one - Romney - this year.

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 4:34 PM:

    You say that like its a bad thing.

    It is a bad thing if you are writing for a publication that aspires to publish journalism rather than propaganda.

    Seriously, you don't know the difference between an ideological perspective and political partisanship?

  • Cha on January 16, 2012 5:17 PM:

    Steve Benen reports the facts. Too bad some people can't handle that..like square1 sitting in a corner whining and stirring up ignorant shite. Wah wah.

    Huntsman is a sneaky hypocrite who has no integrity.

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 5:54 PM:

    @Cha: Nice try. I'm not complaining about facts.

    I'm pointing out that Steve Benen had no problem with Huntsman's ads in October, November, and December. But now Benen is accusing Huntsman of running "negative" ads.

    And, my guess is that if Obama's team takes Benen's suggestion and essentially repurposes Huntsman's ads for the general election, then both you and Steve Benen will once again have no problem with the ads and will not be calling Obama a "sneaky hypocrite who has no integrity".

    IOKIYAD is not much more pleasant than IOKIYAR.

  • Danp on January 16, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Square1. Huntsman is decrying "negative and personal attacks". Comparing Romney to a weather vane would fall into both categories. That makes Huntsman a hypocrite, regardless of how well-oiled Romney actually is. Steve, meanwhile, has never criticized "negative ads" as long as they're true. Liking the old Huntsman better than the new does not make him a hypocrite.

  • Cha on January 16, 2012 6:51 PM:

    DNC AD on Huntsman exposing Romney BEFORE he endorsed him. lol..freaking sneaky hypocrite.

    "It's Still All True"


  • neil b on January 16, 2012 7:33 PM:

    I wonder if Huntsman will still decry negative personal ads when they are about Obama.

  • square1 on January 16, 2012 7:50 PM:

    @DanP: That is a distortion of the term "personal". In common usage, the term "personal attack" generally refers to an attack on the person that is independent of policy views or professional record.

    Attacking Romney for strapping his dog to the roof of his car could be considered a "personal attack". Attacking Gingrich for callously leaving his wife while she was in a hospital bed could be considered a "personal attack". Attacking Bill Clinton or John Edwards for getting expensive haircuts could be considered a "personal attack."

    Attacking Mitt Romney for flip-flopping on a political position is not a "personal attack."

    As Steve Benen has repeatedly noted, Huntsman's attacks on Romney had the benefit of being TRUE.

    OTOH, many of the ads now being aired are FALSE. Gingrich recently called on a SuperPAC in support of his own campaign to stop airing lies.

    A fair reading of Huntsman's comments could simply be that he believes that honestly pointing out holes in your opponents' records is fair game but lying and making stuff is "toxic".

    I'll be honest. Clearly their is an element of b.s. in Huntsman's high-road position. Having said that, I find it preposterous that we would lump truthful, if critical, political attacks along with lies, distortions and smears and say that if you ran a fair but tough campaign then you are a hypocrite for criticizing mud and sleaze thrown by others.

  • AK Liberal on January 16, 2012 8:43 PM:

    Seriously, you don't know the difference between an ideological perspective and political partisanship?

    Seriously, you don't know the difference between the editorial page and the front page? Steve offers analysis, which by nature requires a point of view to be meaningful. I've never mistaken Steve for a reporter.

    You might have noticed that he links to articles by actual reporters that create "news stories". Steve offers us his best analysis and opinion. It keeps me coming back. What's your excuse?