Tag Archives: Jon Huntsman

Jon Huntsman, Conservative

One of the biggest problems that John McCain faced in 2000 and again in 2008 is how people portrayed him.  Because he had chastised the far right on one occasion or another, people started to paint McCain as a centrist Republican, completely ignoring his record which was actually pretty conservative.  People wanted to see in John McCain what they wanted to see and when reality stared them in the face, they were shocked that this candidate that they lauded as a moderate or centrist was really a conservative.

Now it’s Jon Huntman’s turn.  Because he has staked out positions to the left of the party on civil unions and the environment, he immediately got tagged as the reincarnation of Nelson Rockefeller.  Which is why I think Jess Chapman wrote this very odd post taking the conservative Utah governor for pandering to….conservatives.

Chapman links to this Yahoo story where Huntsman met with a group of Tea Party activists in South Carolina:

Those who braved the heat to show up to the presidential forum in the Palmetto State — home of the first Southern presidential primary — admitted they came skeptical of Huntsman’s conservative credentials.

“I think candidates need to have constructive criticism, and that’s what people are saying about him,” Jones, the woman who did the impromptu audience survey, told The Daily Caller. “That he’s a moderate.”

Despite the fact he governed in conservative Utah, how did he get that reputation?

His speeches aren’t exactly fiery like those of fellow candidates Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain or potential rival Sarah Palin. He once worked for President Obama, as ambassador. And last week, he was the only major presidential candidate to support the debt-ceiling compromise struck by Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House.

Huntsman, who was tie-less on Sunday and shed his blazer once on-stage, spent the next hour at Scott’s forum trying to convince those like Jones that he is no moderate or liberal Republican.

He got loud applause by praising the district’s freshman conservative congressman by saying, “thank god for Tim Scott.” They applauded again when he said President Obama has “failed us” and when he said the country needs a balanced budget amendment, a favorite of tea partiers.

And when it comes to paying down the country’s debt, he said “everything needs to be on the table,” including entitlements and defense.

“We can’t have any sacred cows in this debate,” Huntsman said.


Chapman saw this as a loss of nerve:

When former Ambassador Jon Huntsman (R-UT) announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, I was thrilled. He had a solid record on both domestic and foreign policy; he had executive experience; he had the potential to be a true political uniter; and even if the Republicans dropped him, we centrists could have someone around whom to rally if he went third-party. Then he hit the campaign trail and lost his balls. It’s quite a common tale.

Huntsman was in Charleston, SC, yesterday, at a town hall organized by Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), one of the young Tea Party guns. Put him together with a room full of like-minded people, and you can easily find yourself under enormous pressure to toe the line, which is exactly what Huntsman did. He asked the crowd to look at his record – and then took great pains to stress his status as a “conservative problem solver,” emphasis on the “conservative.” A few shots at President Obama and props to Scott, and he was in business. As far as we know.


When Huntsman announced his candidacy earlier in the year, I wrote a post about how folks have tended to misconstrue his conservative record.  What made him different was not that he was a moderate, but that he was a conservative that was open to reaching out to moderates.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

Huntsman’s support for civil unions and responding to climate change has had him pegged as some sort of Rockefeller Republican (which has been described as in one reading). But his moderation is one more of tone than it is one of politics. While such moderation might not be attractive to die hard centrists, I do think it might be more appealing to those who want to be persuaded to vote GOP, but don’t feel they can’t with some of the current crop of candidates (think Michelle Bachmann). I don’t think it’s an accident that Huntsman kicked off his campaign at the same place Ronald Reagan did a generation ago.  I think he is less about reviving a moderate, northeastern-style Republicanism, than he is reviving a Western conservatism ala Reagan.  Reagan was no doubt a conservative, but he is remembered as trying to expand the conservative family, instead forcing purity tests on folks.

Huntsman is not a moderate politically, but he is trying to hone a civil and civic-minded conservatism, something that just might appeal to moderates and independents.

Jess and others might want to read past articles by Daniel Alott and Ezra Klein to see that Huntsman has governed as a conservative.

As for meeting with Tea Party conservatives?  Well, they aren’t my (pardon the pun) cup of tea, but I know that this is part of politics.  If Huntsman is serious about winning the GOP nomination, he has to meet with all types of folks and that includes the Tea Party.  Coupled with a his recent outreach efforts to moderates in New Hampshire, he is doing what Ronald Reagan did 30 years ago: reach out to the different part of the GOP and even try to grow the party. If he went on television denouncing the Tea Party and calling them wingnuts, he might get the praise of centrists and liberals, but if he did that, he might as well give up any chance of winning in the GOP.  If he wants to win, he has to play nice with the Tea Party.  Jess might not like it.  I might not like it.  But this is politics.  It’s not like he’s started parroting Michelle Bachmann or something.

Which brings me back to the comparisons with John McCain.  McCain always had to deal with people who wanted to see in McCain what they wanted to see.  Huntsman is facing the same problem. Chapman wants Huntsman to stay moderate/centrist all the time, but that’s kind of impossible since he was never a moderate to begin with.  He’s a conservative that wants to reach out to moderates and in the world of Republican politics, that’s good enough.


Political Parties Versus Political Movements

So, is the GOP a normal political party?  David Brooks has his doubts, and to be honest at times, so do I.  In a normal world someone like former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman would have a chance a presidential candidate.  People would look at his record and see that at least when it comes to fiscal matters, the governor is a conservative.

But like Brooks said yesterday, I don’t the GOP or at least large swaths of it is a regular political party, but is instead a political movement.  Jonthan Tobin explains why he and his fellow writers at Commontary magazine are  not that crazy about Huntsman:

Utah’s economic record does speak well for Huntsman, but the problem with his candidacy does not stem from worries about that aspect of his record. Huntsman has entered the GOP race as a moderate dripping with contempt for conservatives and clearly attempting to position himself as the darling of media elites and country club Republicans. After serving two years as President Obama’s ambassador to China, he has been slow to understand the one thing that unites the GOP is anger about the president’s policies.

This comes after a Huntsman supporter gave reasons why the magazine should consider Huntman.  Among the arguments:

Opinion polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans rank “the economy” and “jobs” as the top political issue.  Huntsman’s past economic performance speaks of nothing but success.   As governor of Utah, Huntsman signed the largest tax cut ($225 million) in the conservative state’s history, winning him the 2008 Cato Institute tax award and the 2007 Taxpayer Advocate Award; he fought against regulations hampering commerce (including, controversially, some of Utah’s more stringent liquor limitations); and he brought new high-tech businesses to the states.  The result? The American Legislative Exchange Council called Utah the top state for expected economic recovery.

On paper, Huntman is a pretty competent conservative.  His fiscal policy should be a dream to most conservatives.  As far as I’ve known, Huntsman has never said a harsh thing about other Republicans.  And why is the conservative media so fixated on how much the mainstream media loves Huntsman?  I don’t think the love fest is as big as people think (a few articles does not make a love afair.)  And if we are going to talk about media love affairs with certain Republican candidates, can we talk about the conservative media elite’s love for Michelle Bachmann? (She’s on the cover of both National Review and the Weekly Standard.)

I think it doesn’t matter to many if a candidate has a conservative fiscal record.  If they don’t run around talking about the Democrats as the spawn of Satan, or see President Obama as a socialist, then they don’t matter among the conservative media.  It’s the telltale sign a political movement versus a political party.

Yet Another Post on Jon Huntsman

As the days dwindle towards former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s official announcement to enter the 2012 GOP Presidential race, here are two blog posts that caught my eye. The first is from Mike at the Big Stick:

John Huntsman is running for President. This is an interesting development. He’s very Romney-esque in looks and bank account. He’s an insider from the Obama administration but it won’t hurt him a bit because Republicans love a double agent (remember Zell Miller?) With Huntsman strong on foreign policy plus being able to claim some knowledge of the Chinese economy that Americans are right to fear – he will be a serious player from day one IF his debate skills are decent. Last night’s debate proved that there is plenty of room for a good speaker at the top of the field…

… Here’s to predicting a super-ticket and a one-two punch of Romney and Huntsman next fall. The question is which order they will take on the ticket.

I think a Huntsman-Romney or Romney-Huntsman ticket would be a good thing, but I do wonder if the electorate is ready for two Mormons on the GOP ticket. Who knows.

The other post on Huntsman comes from Doug Mataconis.  Huntsman thinks its time for the US to get out of both Libya and Afghanistan. Doug wonders if there’s an appetite for this kind of foreign policy approach:

Is there an appetite for this kind of message in the GOP, or at least a sufficiently large one that a campaign could be built around it? I’m hopeful, but skeptical since it appears that much of the Republican opposition to actions like those in Libya has more to do with the political affiliation of the President ordering it than any real change of heart about the wisdom of interventionism. As I noted last Friday, there seems to be a political and fiscal opening for this kind of message with the broader public, though. Whether that will lead to success in the GOP is something that remains to be seen.

A story by NPR this morning shows that at least among GOP candidates, there is a willingness to adopt a more hands-off foreign policy, so it could be that Huntsman is the right candidate for the right time at least when it comes to foreign policy and military engagement.

Run, Jon, Run?

I’ve always found it interesting that when looking at the current state of the GOP there are cries for the party to “moderate.”  So, when a candidate comes forward that tends to be more open-minded and willing to open up the party, then people say that said candidate has zero chance to win in the primaries or they start to say that said candidate isn’t so moderate after all.

Jon Huntsman is a different kind of Republican. He has his conservative bona fides, but he is also pragmatic and tends to be forward thinking on issues like the environment and gay rights.  There has been a lot of press about him as of late regarding the Presidential campaign next year.  There are signs he will step down from his ambassordial post in China to launch a bid for the White House.

Now, there are bloggers who are already say that this campaign is foolish.  They say he is too liberal for the GOP base, that working under President Obama will end his campaign, that a center-right moderate ran last time and lost, blah, blah blah. 

I think around the blogosphere, there are two assumption that take hold when thinking about the GOP.  The first one is that the party is too right-wing and needs to be more moderate for long term viability.  The second assumption is that the base is so right wing that assumption one will never happen.

I sometimes wonder if assumption one is basically saying that the Republicans needs to be like the Democrats only less so.  Of course, if you run someone that is basically a Democrat, well of course that person’s candidacy is sunk.  But if the candidate runs ala the UK’s David Cameron, holding fast to conservative principles and reaching out beyond the base, then maybe someone like Huntsman has a chance.

One of the reasons that Huntsman was sent on a slow boat to China was because Team Obama was afraid of Huntsman.  Why?  Because Huntsman was a Republican Obama, someone who could hold on to the base and reach the middle as well.  Better to get a potential rival out of the way and hope for someone like a Sarah Palin.

If Huntsman can perform the balancing act of being conservative and reaching out to the center, he just could have a shot in 2012. 

PS: Pejman Yousefzadeh has a great post on Huntsman running for President.

Another Case for Jon Huntsman

Taylor Marsh:

The thing is that Republicans know Barack Obama is vulnerable in ‘12, but they’ve got no one in their roster right now who can come close to doing the job. There’s an opening, with whoever it is that takes on Obama needing to be a heavyweight in order to win. Ambassador Huntsman fits that description, plus has the resume and stature that the gang of Tea Party politicians trying to grab for the lowest rung simply cannot match. However, Huntsman won’t be a favorite among the feverish primary crowd, with no one yet able to explain what happens with Sarah if she doesn’t run and who’ll get her nod if she doesn’t, because it will matter. At least he’s a deficit hawk.

Jon Huntsman Returns

Ever since President Obama named former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China, many people thought that the moderate Republican was taken out of the running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

Not so fast.

Newsweek has a long article on Huntsman and the chances that he might run next year after all.  McKay Coppins, the article’s author, notes that “the cable new crowd” would dismiss a Huntsman candidacy and like Pavlov’s dog, some major pundits started pooh-poohing a Huntsman run.  First up, James Fallows:

Huntsman is part of the Obama Administration. He is right in the middle of dealings with America’s most important foreign-policy partner/challenge. So in the GOP Primaries, how exactly is he going to out-anti-Obama anyone else in the field, given that he has served Obama (and, yes, the country) so loyally? The retorts from all the other Republicans are almost too easy. “If Ambassssadorrr Huntsman is so concerned about the Obama threat to America, then why,…?”

And if he got through that process, he would run against his current commander-in-chief …. how? And why? What is the issue of principle so important that it compels him to challenge Obama’s continuation in office, but has not justified any disagreement while he’s serving now? “Huntsman 2016” would be a very logical inference from his current position. “Huntsman 2012” would require suspension of basic laws of politics and common sense.

Then there’s Matt Yglesias. He tends to think there is something to be said about running even if the outcome might mean losing:

“The Manchurian Candidate” is an excellent headline for an article about the hypothetical presidential campaign of an ambassador to China. So on those grounds alone I think you have to run with the story. Second, I do think that if you look at the history of Republican presidential nominees there’s something to be said for getting in the game and running even if the time isn’t right. Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and John McCain all ran and lost before they got the nomination.

Fallows isn’t totally off that having a former Obama official run in the GOP primaries in 2012 is a suicide mission.  So why would Huntsman run in 2012?  Back to the Newsweek article:

The cable-news crowd will undoubtedly scoff at Huntsman’s prospects in a Republican primary. After a right-wing resurgence flooded Congress with Tea Party Republicans, the field doesn’t appear particularly inviting to a moderate Obama appointee. But an increasingly vocal segment of the GOP is worried that the conservative populism of 2010 is distracting the party from its more pressing priorities. “We may be confusing a clearing in the forest for being out of the woods,” says Republican strategist John Weaver, who notes young voters’ disapproval of some of the party’s social agenda. “There is a ticking demographic time bomb working against us, and if we don’t correct that problem very soon, we could wind up back where we were four years ago.” What the party needs now, argue supporters like Weaver, is a leader who can negotiate a treaty of sorts between the right-wing base and forward-thinking moderates. The GOP, in other words, needs an ambassador.

So, the idea here is not as much to win, but to provide a voice within the GOP that’s not the Tea Party.  Does that make sense?

I think it might.  Back in 1976, conservative Ronald Reagan ran against President Gerald Ford in the primary.  Ford was the standard bearer for the moderates in the party. Reagan’s insurgent campaign didn’t beat Ford, but it did leave him in a weakened position going into the general election and it also laid the groundwork for Reagan’s winning campaign in 1980.  The reality is that Huntsman is a better 2016 candidate than he would be a 2012 candidate.  But if the campaign is about ideas and leading on movement within the GOP he could lose in the primaries and yet lay the foundation for a winning campaign that would be more David Cameron-like when it comes to social issues and the environment and be fiscally conservative and pro-business.

As for the he-worked-for-Obama charge, well the fact is it will hurt him in 2012, but the fact is it will hurt him in 2016 as well.  There are always going to be folks that will rule out any Republican that even smiles at a Democrat.  I think the issue at hand is how to present better ideas than your former boss.  It’s all about making lemons out of lemonade.

If Huntsman and Mitch Daniels and Gary Johnson consider running next year, it might be a good year for moderates in the GOP.