Tag Archives: moderate

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.


When David Brooks Gets Angry…

One of the things that has attracted me to David Brooks over the years is his willingness to not get so heated in his writing.  In a time when it seems that what sells is trying to show everyone how outraged you are, Brooks quiet conservations about issues has always been a breath of fresh air.  Brooks has been criticial of folks accross the political spectrum, but it was never done in a withering attack style.  That’s just not David Brooks.

At least it wasn’t until today.

Brooks incredible tounge lashing of the GOP for it’s dance with default should be a sign to Republicans that they are in danger of losing any and all credibility.  When you get the man who has made a living on calls for civility angry, you’ve pretty much lost the independents and moderates that are needed to win.

The modern GOP is in a bit of a bind. My guess is that even within the halls of Congress there are a number of GOP members of Congress who agree with Brooks.  They want to make a deal with Democrats to avert any kind of fiscal disaster.  But I also think the GOP is trapped by its own ideology; faced with a base that doesn’t want any compromise and will punish any lawmaker that goes against their wishes. As Jonathan Bernstein notes, citing a recent New York Times piece, GOP lawmakers are kept in line using fear:

What matters here, however, isn’t what actually happens in these primaries (after all, virtually all incumbents will survive them), but what’s in the heads of Republican Members of Congress. And for that, it’s possible that the ambiguities and unclear interpretations in Steinhauer’s story reflect accurately a focus on primaries and Tea Party short leashes that dominate the thinking of those Republicans.

All of which means that, at this point, it doesn’t really matter how many establishment figures defect or how harshly they complain: as long as Republican politicians are convinced that their main vulnerability is primary challenges from the right, they’re going to get crazier and crazier. 

The thing is, it’s really not that crazy to worry about challenges from the right. Several Republican incumbents went down to defeat in primaries last year because they were not “pure” enough. It happened enough in 2010 to strike fear in the the hearts of GOP lawmakers. And as Bernstein notes as long as those politicos think this is their fate if they even make a deal, they will ride that crazy train no matter what a columist says about them.

I really don’t know what the solution is.  Of course, GOP lawmakers should make deals, but the reality is they won’t because of what could be the reprocussions of compromising.  Brooks slap accross the face should be a wake-up call, but I doubt it will.  So far, there hasn’t been any consquences for going crazy.  There have been consquences for making deals.  Only when a price is paid for ideological rigidity will the GOP be able to change its course.  The question then will be if it’s too late.

On RINO Hunts

The blogger known as the Moderate Republican wonders aloud why the GOP is so intent to go after fellow Republicans:

That giant sucking sound you hear is all the independents being sucked out of the Republican’s grasp due to our own short sightedness. First Obama, predictably tacks to the center to once again appear the honest broker. Then the Tea Party pushes the newly relevant GOP-lead Congress nearly off a cliff, and now this:

Former Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) is raising money “to defeat candidates who wear the GOP label but are Democrats in disguise,” the AP reports.

They plan to raise $2-3 million to target RINOs who they describe “as Democrats trying to run in the Republican primary in hopes it will be easier to get elected to the Legislature with the GOP label.”


An Example of “Make Everybody Hurt?”

Nick Goebel is impressed with Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s brand of fiscal discipline:

Governor Snyder’s budget that he unveiled last week is a truly unique document in so many ways.  For one, it is an apolitical document that cuts from almost every constituency.  Unlike Republican Governor Walker in Wisconsin, Snyder did not just cut from political constituencies that are loyal to Democrats; he also took on loyal Republican constituencies.  For example, senior citizens could see their pensions taxed if Snyder’s budget is passed.  It is obvious that the Governor’s objective was not to score political points or protect political allies.  As Lt. Governor Brian Calley said, “Whenever people would get weak in the knees and offer a political answer about why not to do something,” Snyder would come back with, “What’s the right thing to do?”

This makes me wonder if Synder if following along the lines of what David Brooks said in an oped last week regarding dealing with state and federal budget issues: “Make Everybody Hurt.”  Brooks believes that budget cuts can only make sense if everyone’s sacred cow gets gored.  His belief is that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s approach is too partisan: only attacking programs favored by Democrats or programs that don’t have a constituency to fight back.  His fellow Republican Synder, is willing to take on people who do vote, like his plan to tax retirees benefits in an effort to balance the budget.

I happened to be back in Michigan when Gov. Synder gave his State of the State address in January.  I thought it has some great ideas and the budget he came out with was fair-minded in my view. It will be interesting to see what approach will benefit the GOP over the long run: Walker’s go for the jugular tactic or Synder’s quiet diplomacy. Time will tell.

Why Michael Bloomberg Matters

Back in December, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave a speech attacking  ideologues on the right and the left and offering a “middle way” to governing.  I’ve read it over and it isn’t the most moving speech.  Bloomberg offers some ideas, but they aren’t anything that is new or that interesting.

Now, Esquire Magazine has a long piece on hizonner which explains his view governing style.  While Bloomberg strikes some good notes on things like mass transit, he also tends to rub me the wrong way with his nanny-state ideas on eating and smoking. 

The article on Bloomberg reminds me of another article I was reading today from Walter Russell Mead about the birth of what he calls the “Blue Social Model” or cultural liberalism in the United States.  In many ways, Bloomberg exemplifies that kind of East Coast liberalism that has had a long history in America.

I’ve been wondering what makes Michael Bloomberg such an interesting person to some folks.  Yes, he is the mayor of America’s largest city, but he’s rather boring.  The libertarian in me rails against his nannyish policies when it comes to eating or smoking.  He hasn’t really come out with bold new ideas. I think the reason he garners attention is because he represents in a way a lost tradition in American politics.  It would be too simple to look at the Mayor and see him as nothing more than a common East Coast liberal.  He is that, but I think he also represents a different strain on East Coast liberalism that is all but dead- that of the liberal Republican.  The part of him that is business-friendly and politically pragmatic on issues of taxes was part of that tradition.  When people talk about some form of centrism, they are in some ways longing for this lost tradition. Writer John Richardson sums it up this way:

He just wants us to be reasonable. Business is the great engine of progress. This is the theme tying together all his ideas, the reason why we have to keep the borders open, rebuild the national infrastructure, restrict guns in cities, and support cosmopolitan freedoms like gay rights and religious tolerance. We need a modern educated country for the new age of global competition. Is that so hard to understand?

That said, if Bloomberg were to ever run for President, he would have issues with not only his take on junk food and tabacco, but because he revels in being part of the elite and his preference of city life over all other ways of living.  Look at this paragraph towards the end of the Esquire essay:

“I think kids should grow up in the city,” he says. “I’ll tell you a great story — when my oldest went to Princeton, the first three weeks, she hated it. I said, ‘Emma, why?’ She said, ‘Daddy, all they do is drink!’ I said, ‘Emma you’ve never turned down a drink in your life.’ She said, ‘Daddy, I did this in the tenth grade.’ ”

Spoken like a true New Yorker — in fact, the ultimate New Yorker, with the spending power of a state and complete indifference to the petty concerns of ordinary political hypocrisy.

Ouch.  Now, I’m a city kid, but I think my partner who grew up in rural North Dakota and refers to himself as a “country mouse” would take a bit of umbrage at such a comment.  I could see a lot of folks who live in small towns and suburbs taking offense at Bloomberg’s comments and I could see some conservative group running an ad using the above quote as a way to paint Bloomberg as out of touch with the common folk.

Of course, Bloomberg is the product of his upbringing on the East Coast.  That said, if you’re even thinking of running for President, you have to take in to account that not everyone lives the way you do and frankly they don’t want to.  It’s one thing to share a preference, but don’t wind up pissing off half the country in the process.

I don’t think a Michael Bloomberg would make a good candidate for President because he does come off as a know-it-all.  But he could make a good template for centrist-libertarian what-have-you out there.  Time will tell if someone like that (maybe Gary Johnson?) will emerge.

Why the GOP Needs Centrists

A lot has happened since the blogger known as the Moderate Republican wrote this back in 2009.  Scott Brown added to the number of New England moderate Republicans and the GOP won back the house and won increased numbers in the Senate on the strength of the Tea Party movement. 

So here is the question for you all this weekend: is this essay still true?  Does the GOP need to change to be more appealing to centrists, or can it win by being more ideologically pure?

This is what the Moderate Republican said in 2009:

If you talk to a large number of average, everyday people you will find they do not fit into the ideological boxes that many political activists like to put them in. There are such things as pro-life liberals and environmentalist conservatives. Talk to enough people and you will see evangelicals who think the government should offer universal health care, and left-leaning teachers who think school choice is the best option to fix schools. This is where the political fight is. How can Republicans make a convincing case to this vast and fertile middle ground in America?


More on Christine O’Donnell and the End of the Delware GOP

Doug Mataconis:

Delaware is a Blue State and it’s likely to be one for a long time, but there was a time when it did produce Republicans who were capable of winning statewide. Not just Mike Castle, but guys like William Roth and Pete duPont. Thanks to the damage that the party suffered in 2010, it’s going to be a long time before Delaware produces a candidate like that again.

The point here isn’t to kick Christine O’Donnell yet again, but to point out that there are consequences to nominating a candidate who has no realistic chance of winning a General Election. Not only do you lose the race itself, but you hurt your party in down ticket races.

The GOP could have taken the Senate had they ran more credible candidates in states like Delaware.  Indeed, the GOP establishment had supported a capable candidate in Mike Castle, but the Tea Party had other ideas and took a candidate that had a chance out of the running.

Which leads to this question: how does a party learn to control its more purist elements?  How can a party please its base and also reach beyond it?

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.