Jon Huntsman’s disappointing campaign
Say this for Rick Perry: At least he had his moment in the sun. In fact, most of the Republican contenders have had at least a moment or two of relevance. Michele Bachmann spiked for just long enough to knock Tim Pawlenty out of contention. Newt Gingrich is steadily building in the polls. Herman Cain is currently leading the field, though it’s hard to imagine that that will last for long. Mitt Romney is, of course, an unstoppable cyborg sent from the future to dominate GOP debates.
But according to Real Clear Politics, poor Jon Huntsman remains mired at one percent. That’s down from his peak of. . .2.4 percent. It’s possible his big break is yet to come. But I doubt it.
To many, his candidacy looked like an effort to prove that the Republican Party could still make space for moderates. But Huntsman has taken precisely no moderate positions. When the debate moderators asked if any of the Republican candidates would reject a deal comprised of $10 of spending cuts for every $1 of tax increases, Huntsman was right there raising his hand. When it came time to release economic plans, he proposed massive tax cuts for the rich. He has called for a balanced budget amendment.
In perhaps his boldest moment, he tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” But like the other candidates on the stage, he opposes policies to actually reduce carbon emissions. In a sense, that really is crazy. It’s certainly crazier than someone who doesn’t believe in global warming opposing policies to reduce carbon emissions.
He’s had flashes of courage, to be sure. He rejected Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge. He’s talked about breaking up big banks, though he hasn’t proposed any policies that would actually do it. He’s implied an openness to immigration as a solution for our housing-market woes, but, again, stopped short of offering such a policy.
Rather, Huntsman has offered the Republican Party a generic conservative platform minus the partisan swagger. He’s polite. He dutifully served in the Obama administration. He wrote complimentary notes to the president. He eschews rancor. His daughters are running a charming campaign on his behalf. He has combined Paul Ryan’s positions with Ned Flander’s personality. He’s the conservative you can bring home to mom.
The problem is that the Republican field already has a generic conservative who is reasonably polite and electable. His name is Mitt Romney. What it doesn’t have is a moderate. What it doesn’t have is someone saying, “of course I would accept a deal that cut $10 in spending for every $1 in tax increases. Are you kidding me?” What it doesn’t have is someone noting that Senate Republicans introduced the first bill to cut carbon emissions through a cap-and-trade program, John McCain and Sarah Palin had such a plan in their 2008 platform, and it would be irresponsible for the Republican Party to walk away from that position. What it doesn’t have is someone saying, “you know, the deficit is such a big problem that I would be willing to sign the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, or something close to them, into law.”
What it doesn’t have, in other words, is someone challenging the party’s hard-right consensus.
Could such a candidate have won the nomination? Probably not. But perhaps he or she could have polled higher than 2.4 percent. Perhaps he or she could have played an important role injecting some sense into a party that keeps drifting further and further to the right. Perhaps he or she could have offered Republicans a choice, rather than a quiet, polite echo. And perhaps he or she still could.