I think Jon Huntsman's chances of running a strong presidential campaign in 2012 are tiny (even tinier than I thought; he evidently has a history of advocacy against climate change that is perhaps even less welcome in the GOP these days than his position on marriage), and that the other rational reason proposed -- that it will lay the groundwork for a 2016 campaign -- goes against history.
When it comes to understanding why he might run, however, I have a standard answer to that: you can never get inside the minds of individual politicians. That is, whatever it looks like to outsiders, maybe Hunstman does think he has a chance. Maybe he thinks that the 2012 -> 2016 strategy is smart, even if in my view it isn't. Maybe he wants a Fox News show. Maybe he has it in for Mitt Romney, and thinks this will sink the Romney campaign. Maybe it's all part of an elaborate kickback strategy concocted between Hunstman and his potential campaign consultants to scam contributors (oh, sorry; don't know what I was thinking of
should I include a link to Pat Buchanan here? Better not). I've seen all of these (except the last) speculated about, and my answer is: we can't know. We can figure out what's logical, where the incentives are, but that's the limit of what we can do, when it comes to individuals.
Unfortunately, "we don't know and can't know" doesn't generate a lot of blogging excitement.
But if I want a few links, I could easily concoct some excellent scenarios and argue that Huntsman is well positioned to achieve them -- that obviously, this is what he's up to. Note: they're all as bogus as the 2016 thing! But don't tell anyone...here's three:
1. Anderson redux! Huntsman's plan is clearly to run for a few months and then drop out and pursue a third-party campaign, similar to John Anderson's from 1980. Except this time, Huntsman has an excellent chance. He's stinkin' rich, so his campaign will be well-funded (like Ross Perot's), but he's not crazy like Perot or nearly as obscure as Anderson was. Instead, it's the Republicans now who are dominated by the crazy, and Barack Obama is far more liberal than Jimmy Carter was. By that logic, he should easily be able to combine Anderson's 7% and Perot's 19% -- and Perot's 8% in 1996. That's 34% -- a winning formula, if the vote is split exactly three ways!
2. Bloomberg/Huntsman! Well, pretty much the previous case, except add to it the can-do spirit and star power of the Mayor of New York City, the obvious launching ground for major political careers. Just look how much money the two of them have! And talk about counterintuitive appeal; everyone will be intrigued by the combination of the Jewish New Yorker and the LDS from Utah. And did I mention how much money they would have?
4. And finally...Palin/Huntsman. Uh...I haven't really sorted this one out yet, but, you know, Sarah Palin! How about: he figures that after a couple good debates, he'll cut a deal with the Sage of Wasilla: she announces him as her running mate in late 2011, before Iowa, thus undermining Romney and giving her a bit of non-crazy credibility. She'd be unstoppable in the primaries, right! Sure!
So, that's my problem. I'm pretty sure that I could get plenty of play if I push hard enough on any of those three scenarios, perhaps with fewer exclamation points. I could even keep manufacturing others, dropping in Hillary Clinton, Michele Bachmann, or whoever else generates talk (he plans to enter the GOP contest, storm off after a debate in which he's the only sane one, and sign on to replace Joe Biden as Obama's running mate! See, this stuff is easy). Or, I can just stick to reminding people of the limits of analysis in these sort of cases. Ah, decisions, decisions.