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Can the next possible Secretary of State manage his way out of a paper bag? Does it matter?

My favorite campaign novel remains Anonymous' Joe Klein's Primary Colors, and one of my favorite exchanges in that book takes place in the early part, when a campaign flack is trying to get a New York Times political reporter to cover a policy speech that would ostensibly contain a shot at a rival candidate:

[The reporter says,] "Do you think this election is going to be about welfare reform?"

"Well, that's part of it," I said. "The folks seem interested. What do you think it's going to be about?"

"What it's always about," he said. "Sex and violence."

And he was right: this was about violence.

I bring this up because Jonathan Martin's story about Jon Huntsman's dysfunctional presidential campaign in Politico is all about the violence -- in this case, the internecine warfare between Huntsman's longtime friends and his campaign manager John Weaver.

Now, Huntsman's chances of winning the nomination were pretty slim to begin with, so you might be wondering why your humble blogger is writing about this particular story [STOP PRE-EMPTING ME!!!!--ed.] I think there are three reasons.

First, I'd expect decent odds that Huntsman would be the secretary of state in any incoming GOP administration (quick, name me an alternate candidate with sufficient gravitas). Even if he's a sideshow to the current GOP nomination, he wouldn't be if a Republican won in 2012. A story like this, on the other hand, might not help his chances to land a cabinet post.

This leads to the second interesting question, however, which is whether we can jettison the implicit correlation between assembling a well-run campaign and a well-run government. By all accounts, Hillary Clinton's campaign was even more dysfunctional in 2008, and at least one veteran of that campaign admitted to flashbacks after reading Martin's story. That said, there hasn't been that much criticism of Clinton's management of the foreign-policy machine. Maybe managing a campaign is just a wee bit different from managing a political bureaucracy, or negotiating with other actors in world politics.

The final note is, oddly, reassuring. From Martin's story:

Huntsman’s early staffing was so bare-bones that the campaign didn’t even have a policy director, or standard white papers. It left Huntsman himself relying on papers prepared by the American Enterprise Institute to bone up on the issues....

[T]he campaign has suffered early organizational challenges -- and not just with departing personnel.

With no policy director initially, Huntsman was relying on position papers from the American Enterprise Institute to serve as his briefings.

On June 25, four days after the former governor’s announcement, but well after he had put together his basic campaign infrastructure, [disgruntled former campaign aide David] Fischer sent the candidate a blunt note.

“I am concerned about the slow pace of assembling your policy team,” Fischer wrote. [Finance consultant] Jim McCray called me today and he mentioned that donors often ask for a specific policy white paper. We don’t have them.”

Huntsman has since added a policy director to the campaign. (emphasis added)

It's very easy to become cynical about presidential campaigns and conclude that it's all about the dirty tactics opposition research. Discovering that early backers and donors actually care about, you know, policy substance, is kind of encouraging.

Unfortunately, Martin's story itself will likely make it that much harder for Huntsman to assemble a decent policy shop. Policy advisors want to glom onto campaigns that are ideologically palatable but also have a decent chance of winning. Any undecided policy wonks who were Huntsman-curious will read this story and run to Mitt Romney's campaign.

Daniel W. Drezner

Has the USA lost its AAA superpower rating?

While the debtopocalypse might have been cancelled, I see that the wake for American hegemony is chugging right along.

The interwebs is drowning from variations of the argument that the process by which the debt ceiling deal was reached has dented American power. To sum them up: Sure, the United States government staved off collapse, but the galactically stupid brinkmanship over it has permanently damaged America's brand. Furthermore, the new politics of brinkmanship means that we could potentially see this kind of own-goal as a new permanent fixture of American political economy. Continued political uncertainty over something as obviously necessary as raising the debt ceiling means that actual policy problems like, say, crumbling infrastructure, education, or reassessing grand strategy is a true fool's errand. So, in other words, the USA is screwed.

See the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, David Weigel, David Rothkopf, Felix Salmon, and Joshua Keating for just a small sampling of this compelling argument.

To which I say: mmmmmmmaybe.  

I don't doubt that the U.S. brand of constitutional democracy has taken a pretty severe hit from this episode. Then again, the parliamentary system of democratic governance has long been more popular, so that's not really a new thing.

There are three factors, however, that make me wary of this kind of eulogy. First, I've come to look at concepts like "soft power" and "standing" with a bit of a jaundiced eye. Even if the U.S. takes a hit in that category, I'm not sure that loss translates anything more tangible than … a bunch of foreign-policy pundits bemoaning its loss.

Seriously, compare the last few years of the Bush administration with the first few years of the Obama administration. Any measurable metric of standing or soft power with the presidential transition. The effect on U.S. foreign policy, however, has been negligible.

Second, power is always a relative term, so the question has to be asked -- who's gaining on the United States? Joshua Keating's survey of global schadenfreude doesn't change the fact that the eurozone remains a basket case, Japan and Russia remain demographic disasters, and China has domestic political problems that make partisanship in the United States look like child's play. Even a cursory glance at military spending reveals no peer competitor to the United States. So yes, the United States will endure a rain of rhetorical horses**t for a while right up until the next crisis in which the world demands America "do something" because it's still the only superpower still standing.

Or, to put this in bond rating language -- even if US power is downgraded from AAA, who else is even above BBB+?

Third, the thing about democracy is that it has multiple ways to constrain political stupidity and ideological overreach. The first line of defense is that politicians will have an electoral incentive to act in non-crazy ways in order to get re-elected. The second line of defense is that politicians or parties who violate the non-crazy rule fail to get re-elected. So, in some ways, the true test of the American system's ability to stave off failure will be the 2012 election. Politicians from both parties have vastly overinterpreted recent electoral victories as sweeping mandates. I suspect, in 2012, many of them will be penalized for such hubris. If they aren't, well, then the conventional wisdom might have a point.

Smart investors made a ton of money this past month by betting on the full faith and credit of the United States despite the D.C. blood sport. If one could make a similar wager on American power, I'd be inclined to bet against the current market sentiment.

Am I missing anything?

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images