Can Huntsman do it?

Word is leaking out that Jon Hunstman, Jr. is resigning his post as Ambassador to China and will begin exploring a run for the Presidency.  President Obama sent him to China, most observers believe, to avoid just that scenario.  But it apparently has backfired.  Hunstman got two years in probably the most important diplomatic post there is, other than SoS, which he can now add to his resume along with his other foreign policy and domestic experience.

Can Huntsman make it?  He’s a long shot, but then everyone on the GOP side is a long shot.  Here are some reasons why the Obama administration tried to stash him in China:

  • He will have an uphill battle in the primary, but he would make a formidable general election candidate, which is why Axelrod and the boys have been so scared of him.    Obama can only be defeated by someone who can peel off significant numbers of voters in the middle.  Is a Huckabee or a Palin going to do that?  No chance.  They would alienate more than they would attract.   Romney might, but he’s seen as a flip-flopper, disingenuous, and an opportunist.
  • He is a moderate but is actually solidly conservative on many issues.  He has been a solid free trader, fiscal conservative, and advocate of efficient government (under his administration in the Utah Governor’s mansion, Utah developed the reputation as one of the most well-run states).   He is pro life.  He doesn’t have any significant black marks or missteps that are going to galvanize significant opposition from mainline conservatives.  He is moderate on issues like education, the environment and health care–meaning he will appeal to moderates without alienating conservatives.  He has a genuine soft spot for policies that affect kids, which is what has motivated his stances on education and health care.   In a general election, he would have all kinds of Democrats and independents coming forward testifying how he is someone they can work with.
  • In Utah he pushed hard for and implemented a health insurance exchange that everyone around the country is looking to (it hasn’t yet proven itself, but is intriguing).  It is a pro-market approach with no mandates and is widely seen as the free market version of the Massachusetts model (though they share some similarities).
  • He is a skilled businessman and manager who comes from an enormously wealthy family.  The business community would easily rally around Hunstman, probably as much as Romney.  He will have no trouble financing a serious campaign.
  • He can win in New Hampshire.   He supported McCain early and prominently, even though most Republicans in his state were backing Romney.  I always thought this was a shrewd political calculation.  McCain will help him in NH, and he will help himself.
  • Almost no one dislikes him.  He is very handsome, smart and articulate.  He has one of those Boehneresque perma-tans, but his looks natural, like he got it skiing on the slopes, rather than baking in the tanning salon.    He has that same Presidential look straight out of Central Casting that Romney does, without the baggage (believe me, not all Mormon politicians are as good looking as these two).  When he left office to become Ambassador, there was a poll that showed him with 88% approval among Republicans and 96% among Democrats!  Many on the hard right were not fans, but no one would dare say so publicly.  It would be like dissing the Prom King that everyone at school gets along with.  Being the candidate no one dislikes can go a long way in politics, particularly if you have a lot of money.

He has to overcome a low initial name recognition and the sometimes virile anti-Mormon sentiment among the evangelical wing of the party, but I’m sensing that social issues aren’t going to be as important in the primary as economic ones.  The big concern among Republicans is that the Tea Party forces might drive the party to select an unelectable candidate.  That is a non-trivial possibility.

So, if you start hearing more and more about Huntsman, don’t be surprised.  The mainstream media will be looking desparately to find a negative tag line to go with him, but they will have a hard time making it stick.

7 thoughts on “Can Huntsman do it?

  1. I think “working for Barack Obama for two years” qualifies as a “significant black mark or misstep that will galvanize opposition from mainstream conservatives.”

  2. Really? Maybe I’m just way out of touch with the GOP primary electorate.

    If Huntsman were some Ambassador with little partisan background, I’d be more likely to believe you. But Huntsman had plenty of Republican street cred before going to China. Answering the call of the President just makes him look patriotic, I think.

    I think you are succumbing too much to the hype about how the GOP hates Obama. I think those who care about electability are greater in number than those who would see working for Obama as unforgivable.

    But maybe I’m just too charitable towards Republicans. I mean, I shouldn’t have too much faith in the people who would give up a sure seat in the Senate for the opportunity to nominate a sure loser like Christine O’Donnell.

  3. Yes, I do think you’re being charitable toward GOP voters. O’Donnell is a good example. But so it what happened to Bennett right in your own state. The guy dares to put his name on a moderately conservative alternative to Obamacare and he’s booted out of office as a punishment? I just read in the NYT that a similar movement is aiming at taking out Richard Lugar in Indiana. That’s not a party that’s going to rally around a moderate who dared to work for the enemy. That he’s a Mormon isn’t going to help the the evangelicals either. Now the “right-wingers who are willing to vote for a Mormon” vote is going to be split between Huntsman and Romney. Not good.

    1. Bennett would have EASILY won a Republican primary, even a closed primary. In an open primary (like NH), he would have won by even a larger margin. As I blogged about after he lost, Utah has a strange system where candidates have to get past the convention before they qualify for the primary. The Tea Partiers hijacked that system and Bennett never had the chance to face the primary voters.

      I’m not seeing how Huntsman’s trying to improve relations with China is somehow anti-Republican. Indeed, the policy of spineless appeasement in the name of US corporate interests (a policy I hate) has been the policy of every Republican and Democratic president since Nixon, hasn’t it?

      But, again, a party that would nominate Christine O’Donnell for anything probably isn’t one where such nuances would have much sway.

      I can see Hunstman losing for lots of different reasons, but the “he worked for the devil” argument I find to be quite disheartening.

  4. Republicans in 2012 might be different from Republicans in 2010… After all, McCain was considered the most moderate candidate (besides Giuliani) in 2008, and he won. Recall that Bennett was essentially booted at a party convention, not a primary. Especially since there’s no primary on the Democratic side, I expect moderates and even liberals to be a consequential part of the GOP primaries.

    I think Huntsman’s bigger problem is that few people know who he is.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s