Jon Huntsman and the politics of playing nice

at 07:40 AM ET, 06/21/2011


Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will formally announce his bid for president on Tuesday.
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman will formally enter the 2012 presidential race today with a campaign premised on a somewhat radical idea: being nice.

“I don’t think you need to run down anyone’s reputation to run for president,” Huntsman is expected to say, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks obtained by The Fix. “I respect my fellow Republican candidates.”

As for President Obama, Huntsman will say that “he and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love,” adding:
“The question each of us wants to answer is who will be a better president, not who is a better American.”

Contrast that with the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney’s assertion in his own announcement speech that Obama had “failed America.” And former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty said in his own announcement that “we’ve tried Barack Obama’s way...and his way has failed.”

Huntsman’s approach is decidedly un­or­tho­dox, given what appears to be the prevailing mood in the Republican electorate of late.

The rapid rise of businessman/political provocateur Donald Trump in 2012 polling earlier this year seems, in retrospect, attributable to his willingness to take the fight to Obama — often in very personal terms.

And, in message-testing of people in Iowa and New Hampshire by SocialCode — a Facebook advertising agency owned by the Washington Post Company — the most compelling message for every single one of the seven Republicans was one centered on a critique of Obama.

(PHOTOS: Jon Huntsman launches 2012 presidential bid)

Huntsman is betting that, once Republican voters settle down to make their choice as to who they want to put up against Obama, that their anger will give way to a more reasoned analysis.

Huntsman’s appeal to Republicans’ better angels is rooted — literally and symbolically — in the sunny optimism of the late President Ronald Reagan.

It’s not by accident that Huntsman is announcing at Liberty State Park, with a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, in New Jersey — the same site where Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential bid.

“[Reagan] assured us we could ‘make American great again,’ and under his leadership we did,” Huntsman is expected to say. “I stand in his shadow as well as the shadow of this magnificent monument to our liberty.”

Of course, the political world of 1980 — pre-Internet, pre-Twitter, etc. — is very different from the political world of 2011.

Huntsman is placing a very big bet on the idea that his party is ready for less heat and more light. The next six months will tell us if he is the smartest man in the party or another political gambler gone bust.

Thune for president?: The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol says Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is re-thinking his decision not to run for president and, at least so far, Thune’s advisers aren’t completely shooting it down.

Asked about Kristol’s comments, one Thune adviser told The Fix on Monday that the senator “remains focused on his work in the Senate.”

So is there room for Thune in this field? Given the lack of clear frontrunners in the field, a rising-star senator enters the race with a fair amount of cache. Not to mention the fact that Thune is sitting on more than $7 million in his federal campaign account.

At the same time, he still voted for the Troubled Asset Relief Program bailout, and he declined to run before many of the current candidates even declared. Which leads us to ask: what exactly has changed?

More would blame GOP for default: Republicans have more to lose if the debt limit is not raised and the country goes into default, according to a new poll by the Washington Post and the Pew Research Center.

The poll shows 42 percent of people would hold Republicans responsible for a default, while 33 percent would blame the Obama Administration, and just 13 percent would blame both.

Republicans, of course, are the ones threatening to not raise the debt limit unless they get the kind of budget cuts they are seeking.

Perhaps most interesting is that so few Americans would hold both parties responsible; perhaps that’s a reflection of the polarizing nature of the budget debate.

NRCC has twice the cash of DCCC: For the first time since taking the majority, House Republicans’ campaign committee outraised its Democratic counterpart in May. And the National Republican Congressional Committee now has almost twice as much cash on hand as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

After raising $4.6 million in May, the NRSC has $10.6 million on hand. The DCCC raised $3.8 million in May and has $5.4 million on hand.

While the GOP regained the edge in May and has a cash advantage, House Democrats came out of the 2010 election with twice as much debt as Republicans and have been paying it down much more quickly, to the point where they now have less debt than their rivals — $6.7 million to $7 million. The DCCC has still raised slightly more this year overall, with $27.5 million to Republicans’ $26.8 million.

Texas legislature passes redistricting map: Texas lawmakers on Monday finished work on an agressive GOP-drawn congressional redistricting map, with the state Senate passing the bill and sending it to Gov. Rick Perry (R) for his signature.

The new map draws three of four new districts to favor Republicans and goes after Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett.

The map is destined for court, where Democrats will point out that only one of the four new districts is majority-Hispanic, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of population growth over the last decade has been minorities.

Fixbits:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) will honor the troops alongside former President George H.W. Bush and several conservative talkers in California on Thursday.

Obama held his 30th fundraiser of the year last night.

Sarah Palin has trademarked her name.

Tim Pawlenty says he’ll be more assertive from now on.

Sen. Dianne Feinsten’s (D-Calif.) poll numbers aren’t what they used to be, according to a new Field Poll.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is now in slightly negative territory when it comes to his own approval rating.

More than one in five Americans say they won’t vote for a Mormon presidential candidate — about the same as four years ago. Both Romney and Huntsman are Mormon.

Newt Gingrich says NBC’s “Under God” controversy helps him.

Michele Bachmann gets her Canadian history wrong.

Must-reads:

Rick Perry’s moral problem” — Wendy Kaminer, The Atlantic

Florida legislators gird for redistricting battles” — Aaron Deslatte, Orlando Sentinel

The rise of uncompassionate conservatism” — Rich Lowry, The National Review

Herman Cain’s modern-day religious test” — Michael Gerson, The Washington Post

Abortion foes’ pledge is snag for Romney” — Theo Emery, Boston Globe

 
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