The candidate with nothing to lose

When Jon Huntsman launched his Republican presidential campaign a few months ago, the former Utah governor and Obama administration ambassador emphasized his intention to run a positive campaign. Lamenting the fact that campaigns “naturally” go negative, Huntsman told reporters, “Somebody who is behind [has] the knee-jerk reaction that you’ve got to pull somebody down to catch up.”

He added, “[I]t’s going to take a bigger person basically to stay above that kind of pettiness.”

Ironically, three months later, Huntsman seems to be the only GOP candidate taking meaningful shots at his Republican rivals. We saw this last month, when Team Huntsman went after Mitt Romney’s “abysmal” record on job creation, and we see it again today with Huntsman’s interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper.

In a pre-recorded interview that will air this morning on “This Week,” Huntsman was asked, for example, about Rick Perry’s rejection of biological and climate science. Huntsman said:

“I think there’s a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.

“The Republican Party has to remember that we’re drawing from traditions that go back as far as Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, President Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush. And we’ve got a lot of traditions to draw upon. But I can’t remember a time in our history where we actually were willing to shun science and become party that was antithetical to science. I’m not sure that’s good for our future and it’s not a winning formula.”

Huntsman went on to slam the right-wing approach to the debt ceiling embraced by all of his rivals — he “wouldn’t necessarily trust any of my opponents right now” on this issue, he said — and when asked about Perry’s “treason” talk, Huntsman said, “Well, I don’t know if that’s pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas.”

Ouch.

In the larger context, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if Jon Huntsman is trying to alienate the Republican Party’s far-right base, hoping there are just enough liberal Republicans around — presumably hiding well — to keep him competitive.

By all indications, the strategy won’t work — Huntsman and Republican primary voters just don’t have much in common anymore — but when the guy is running last in nearly every poll, what does he have to lose?