Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty makes it official this morning. He’s jumping into the race for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. Not with a third installment of “The Bourne Candidacy” but with three network interviews that will almost assuredly go better than Newt Gingrich’s one disastrous turn on “Meet the Press” last Sunday. But since he’s got a whole week’s worth of I’m-running activities, my focus right now is not on Pawlenty. It’s on Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman is the former Republican governor of Utah who was up in New Hampshire late last week testing the waters for a potential run for the GOP nomination. Folks might not know much about him, and they probably won’t even like what he has had to say. But in interviews, such as the one with George Stephanopoulos, I liked some of what I heard, which probably means his chances of securing the nomination are doomed. That’s a pity because he seems like a grown-up in a party bereft of them.
One of the knocks against Huntsman is that he went to work for President Obama as ambassador to China. And he has the perfect, unapologetic and right response. “I did serve President Obama,” Huntsman said at a gathering in New Hampshire. “I served my president, my president asked me to serve, in a time of war, in a time of economic difficulty in this country. I’m the kind of person, when asked by my president to stand up and serve my country, when asked, I do it.” And he didn’t back down during his interview with Stephanopoulos.
Jon Huntsman: I worked for the President of the United States. The President asked me, the President of all the people. And during a time of war, during a time of economic difficulty for our country, if I’m asked by my President to serve, I’ll stand up and do it.
George Stephanopoulos: So you’d do it again?
Jon Huntsman: I’d do it again. Of course. I’ve always been … trained, and I hope to train my own family that when your country needs you, particularly in a critical and sensitive bipartisan position, which is the U.S. ambassador to China, that you — if there is the prospect that you can get in there and bring about change in a way that helps your country through public service, I’m there.
After nearly three years of birther nonsense that questioned Obama’s citizenship and legitimacy as president, it’s nice to finally hear a Republican call him “my president” without equivocation.
Huntsman didn’t back off his support of civil unions for same-sex couples. “I think, in the case of civil unions, I think it’s a fairness issue,” he said. “I believe in traditional marriage. But subordinate to that, I think we probably can do a better job when it comes to fairness and equality.” This puts him to the left of the social conservatives who dominate the nominating process but to the right of some notable Republicans.
And Huntsman matter-of-factly swatted back the hovering Mormon question. “I believe in God,” he said. “I’m a good Christian. I’m very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon.” Take that!
But not everyone is as enamored with Huntsman as I am. Jennifer Rubin filleted him yesterday, saying he “made his candidacy even less credible” with his “isolationist” comments on Libya and Afghanistan. No doubt the criticisms will mount the closer he gets to making it official like Pawlenty did yesterday. But if Huntsman handles them the way he has so far he very well might do better than folks expect.