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.


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