The Washington Post

You can’t be centrist in the GOP primary

It’s no surprise that Jon Huntsman would be viewed favorably in a general election context. I wrote in The Post in July that he is a remarkable man, but that he is completely out of sync with the nominating wing of the Republican Party. He needed to do something radical to get into today's game. Well, nothing radical has happened, and he is barely hanging in there.

In fact, all of his surprising moves came before his campaign geared up. I've known Huntsman for a long time. We've intersected through family and politics over the years, and I was a proud supporter of his when he ran for governor of Utah. But maybe I didn't know him as well as I thought. If anyone had asked me if he would leave the governor’s office to be President Obama's ambassador to China, I would have said, “no way.” If anyone had asked me if he would leave the ambassador’s post to run for the GOP nomination to oppose Obama, I would have said, “not going to happen.”

He has lost his political touch, or he doesn't mind taking a flier, or he somehow missed the whole Tea Party movement while he was in China. It is hard to hurt your career by running for president, but he is getting close. It is too bad, because the GOP needs his experience and his voice of reason.

What Nate Silver tells us is that general elections are won in the center. And, by whatever formula you use, it is easy to see how Huntsman and Romney fit into the center. However, at all cost, you must avoid being called a centrist in today’s nominating contest. If you appear to be angling for the middle, or insufficiently or not genuinely conservative, you can't win our nomination.

In Huntsman's case, he is authentically conservative; he just appears so thoughtfully nuanced and sincere that 2012 is not likely to be the year for him.

Ed Rogers is a contributor to the PostPartisan blog, a political consultant and a veteran of the White House and several national campaigns. He is the chairman of the lobbying and communications firm BGR Group, which he founded with former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in 1991.

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