And that similarity should be no surprise. As Bai reports, the Huntsman campaign is to a considerable degree the brainchild of John Weaver, the Republican strategist who was a key part of the Straight Talk Express. Comparisons between Huntsman and McCain — or at least, of the McCain who ran for president — tend to focus on their moderate views, their embrace of what Weaver calls a “bigness” agenda, and their strategic focus on New Hampshire. But in a GOP field whose other players are more likely to shun or attack the “lamestream” media, Huntsman’s canny engagement may be the characteristic that is most reminiscent of McCain.
And that engagement carries risks for the press, though the danger is not really that too-kind coverage will give Huntsman an unfair advantage. While he’ll surely look presidential in the photos that accompany that forthcoming Esquire profile, it’s unclear how many primary votes that will win him; McCain, after all, didn’t claim the GOP nomination until he abandoned the approach that endeared him to much of the elite media in the first place.
Rather, the risk is one that confronts a reporter on any beat — that by gravitating to subjects that are accessible and knowing, that mirror back to us the frame with which we first came to a story, we will miss something unexpected and altogether more interesting. So there’s cause, perhaps, for a bit of self-reflection from journalists, who might ask, before the next wave of Huntsman profiles: Are we covering this candidate because something about his campaign is important, illuminating, or otherwise compelling to our readers? Or are we doing it because he speaks our language, and he makes it easier to write the story we wanted to write all along?