Call me crazy, but all the coverage about whether or not Jon Huntsman is smart to tout his moderate views is getting old. Ever since the former China ambassador tweeted on Thursday that he believes in evolution and trusts scientists on global warming-“call me crazy,” he wrote--his positioning has come under the microscope.
To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.
His attacks from the center--Huntsman’s pop on Twitter made him of
interest for ABC’s “This Week” Sunday show--could be interpreted as going too negative, political talking heads warned. It’s all part of an effort to look credible come 2016, wrote The Daily Beast’s Michael Tomasky, when Republicans might actually be ready for a more center-right candidate. Or, writes The New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg, Huntsman’s tweet is his way of campaigning to “regain his self-respect” after missing his chance to establish himself as the only moderate choice in the recent GOP debate. (Huntsman, like every other person on stage, said he would not accept a deal to reduce the long-term deficit that included $1 in tax increases for every $10 in spending cuts.)
But wait a minute. Couldn’t it just be that Jon Huntsman actually agrees with the concepts of global warming and evolution, and runs on his beliefs? Is a moment of candor so rare in politics today that we have to try and pick apart his bigger strategy the moment he doesn’t toe the line of the party’s base? Is everything so poll-tested and focus-grouped that candidates who dare to speak to the people who will actually decide the general election make news?
The answers, sadly, are maybe, yes and yes. I’m not so jaded that I can’t believe Huntsman is simply trying to speak up on what he believes in, but I’m also not so dumb to think he doesn’t hope his play-the-moderate strategy will work, either next year or in 2016. At the same time, it’s clear that in a year when the GOP field’s views seem to run the gamut from hard right to extreme right, a guy that believes in evolution and supports civil unions--and says so--is rare, indeed. And yes, the modus operandi of the primary season--make yourself appear as staunchly conservative as possible to appeal to the base and win the nomination, only to have to morph into a center-right candidate come next year--may be twisted logic, but it’s increasingly looking like the only way to win.
Huntsman surely realizes that he has almost no chance of being elected this year. His 9th-place standing-that’s just one spot from the bottom-in the Ames Straw Poll doesn’t bode well, to say the least. He worked for President Obama, a dubious resume builder for many of the party’s base, even if it does mean he’s spent the last few years getting to know the leadership, culture and economy of our country’s biggest rival. He believes in civil unions for homosexuals. He’s a Mormon from a state with only five electoral votes.
As a result, The New Yorker’s Hertzberg wrote, he may be more focused on the next election, and less worried about winning the base in this one. “You can almost feel his relief,” Hertzberg speculates. “What the hell. He might as well have a little fun.” And stick to his principles in the process.