Drama Sweeps Through Huntsman's Month-Old Campaign

Top strategist rains down the f-bombs, makes women cry, as the candidate struggles in polls

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Jon Huntsman's campaign emailed Republican donors this week to assure them that counter to "media-driven labels," the candidate is a "a conservative problem solver" with a record of supporting gun rights and opposing tax hikes, CNN's Peter Hamby reports. But Huntsman's record conflicts with that assertion in two ways. As is well-known, Huntsman has a fairly moderate record, including support for civil unions, which contradicts the "conservative" part. What Politico's Jonathan Martin reveals Thursday, however, is the less well-known evidence that Huntsman is not much of a "problem solver." Martin reports that Huntsman's campaign is being dragged down by mad drama, part Big Love, part Office Space.

Martin got former Huntsman confidant David Fischer to go on the record about all the turmoil within the campaign. At the center of it is chief strategist John Weaver--a close adviser to John McCain in 2000 who was ousted from McCain's second presidential campaign in 2007--who Fischer accuses of abusing three top staffers until they quit all while the campaign made a series of embarrassing mistakes, like misspelling Huntsman's name at the official announcement of his candidacy. (NBC's First Read simply notes, "If you've been following American politics over the past several years, you could see this story about Huntsman strategist John Weaver coming a mile away.")
Fischer decided to go on the record after a story on his departure from the campaign was posted on RealClearPolitics Sunday. In it, anonymous staffers complain to Erin McPike that Fischer "acted like a hall monitor" at campaign headquarters, and imply he was uncomfortable working with gay aides. Fischer was furious over the story, and a friend attributes the criticism against him to "Weaver exacting revenge." And so, Fischer enacted his, by spilling to Politico.
Among the moments of office drama Martin uncovered, Weaver carpet-bombed the staff with f-words:
On June 21, the night of Huntsman's less-than-stellar campaign launch, Weaver and others had a conference call with the advance teams in South Carolina and Florida, the next destinations on the announcement tour.
"He just started tossing out the F-bomb, saying that the day was the most f--ed-up thing he had ever seen," said a source on the call. "It was an odd call because they sounded like they were blaming the people not even involved with the day. I was like, 'Whoa, I didn’t do anything.'"
Perhaps a bad omen for Huntsman as a candidate, but a good one for Huntsman as a human being, he finds some of these political types a little distasteful:
"[Huntsman's father] said, 'Jon seems to be down a little bit, you know, he’s surrounded by people he doesn't necessarily like,'" recounted Fischer about a phone conversation in early July with the man he calls "Senior."
And the elder Huntsman is disappointed in where his son is heading, a bit like Big Love's Roman Grant, played by Harry Dean Stanton, feeling sad that his son is ruining everything he worked for.
Later in the month, at a donor's meeting in Deer Valley, Utah, Huntsman the elder again confided that he was upset about the campaign.
"Very concerned," is how Fischer described the father's frame of mind at the donor's event, adding: "You know, I think…the governor describes his dad as his best friend, so I think that they talk a lot. But there’s a limit to what the father can do."
When the elder Huntsman arrived at Liberty Park [the site of Huntsman's official entry into the race], he immediately noticed that his son's name was misspelled as "John" on the credentials, recalled Fischer.
"Huntsman Senior and his wife saw it within five seconds, too, and they came over. It was like, 'Who did this? They need to be fired. This is embarrassing.'"
And Weaver makes women cry:
Fischer and other inside sources said Weaver was partly responsible for the departure of [campaign manager Susie] Wiles as well as Spencer Geissinger, who had been head of advance, and Alysia Barzee, the campaign scheduler.
"Susie Wiles hated John Weaver," said Fischer. "I mean, I was on the phone at least three times with her when she was in tears because something Weaver had done to her."
Martin explains the mutually-beneficial relationship as one in which Weaver gets New Hampshire for Huntsman, and Huntsman gets political redemption for Weaver--"a chance to notch his first presidential nomination victory." But right now, Huntsman is averaging less than 4 percent in New Hampshire polls. And the campaign drama undercuts his core message: that he's a competent, level-headed manager. When Fischer emailed Huntsman about the RealClearPolitics story, Huntsman responded, "Absolutely Horrible... The article is benign but it's the intent that is troubling. And my responsibility to get to the bottom of this. Just when we were reaching a better stride. I’ll let you know what I find." Martin doesn't say whether Huntsman's gotten back to Fischer on that one.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.