Wild Wild Websites

Jake Laperruque 

Last month, I discussed how the presidential campaign is moving slowly, with no Republican candidates formally entering the fray.  Since then, more potential candidates have formed exploratory committees, but with just nine months remaining before the Iowa Caucuses, there is still not a single official candidate for the nomination.  However, the website of one would-be contender reveals a possible reason why some might be waiting.

Typically, candidates will register the web domain of their name, and use it as a campaign website.  Jon Huntsman, however, does not have this option.  Huntsman – the former Utah governor and Ambassador to China – has emerged as a likely presidential candidate after resigning as Ambassador and returning to the United States.  However, rather than a strong campaign message (such as Newt Gingrich in front of stock photo or T-Paw just being T-Paw), if you go to jonhuntsman.com, you’ll find something unexpected:  A letter from Huntsman praising Obama, with a valentine-themed border pushing the attack-from-the-right that Huntsman is too cozy with the Democratic President.  What you won’t find on the website is any individual, organization, or campaign taking credit for the attack.

Unlike free social media, in which a campaign might be able to work in the shadows, hosting a website costs money. A campaign must disclose its ownership of websites, and cannot coordinate with an outside group that might conduct such activities surreptitiously.  But with potential candidates still undeclared, they are free to plan with political allies and friendly organizations, carry out secret smears, and disclose nothing.  And individual attacks such as Huntman’s website are small in scale compared to what can be done.  With outside groups pulling in tens of millions from corporate donors, potential candidates can coordinate and plan full-fledged campaigns to be run independently, then cut the cord, declare a candidacy, and stand back as the outside organizations wreak havoc through negative campaigning without taking any of the blame.

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