Former governor and ambassador Jon Huntsman is an articulate, attractive, cerebral, urbane internationalist. He’s a proven conservative with a reassuring, moderate tone and a model family. His vast experience in state and federal government, including service as a diplomat, clearly makes him qualified to be president.
In other words, he is “toast” in today’s Republican Party, and he has very little chance to be the 2012 nominee.
Elections are won in the center. The right ticket led by Huntsman could unify and motivate the party to believe it actually could replace President Obama and Vice President Biden with real conservatives.
The GOP, with its traditional approach to the nominating process, will never give former Utah governor Huntsman room to explain his participation in the Obama administration and nuanced issues, such as his position on immigration. He will never satisfy the most angry members of our party. And if he somehow managed to win the nomination, a third-party candidate could attack him from the right and almost guarantee Obama’s reelection.
Meanwhile, Rep. Michele Bachmann is a GOP leader to watch. She is a star in the party and bulletproof with our right wing. She is more thoughtful than she gets credit for. The Tea Party will follow her to the ends of the earth, and her positions on the budget and the economy are where most Republicans’ hearts and minds fall.
But she also has many glib, shallow positions; for instance, we will not balance the budget next year. That and her lack of experience produce a negative stereotype that the mainstream media are eager to help her develop. The left will be vicious and eager to Palinize Bachmann before she builds any momentum. Given her inexperience — this is her fourth year in the House — she will make her share of mistakes, and she is not yet credible as a commander in chief.
Huntsman and Bachmann should have a meeting of the minds and offer themselves as a Huntsman-led ticket before the Iowa caucuses next year.
Think about it. Unless there is a new dynamic to the 2012 campaign, Huntsman probably can’t win the nomination and Bachmann probably shouldn’t.
But beating Obama will require a fresh approach. He will not be weakened by a primary challenge, and as yet there does not appear to be a left-wing third-party candidate who could erode his support in the general election.
Republicans need to do something radical. If we go through the drudgery of the primaries with a weak field, produce a weak nominee, and face an impoverished spring and early summer of 2012, followed by a tiresome, cliched August convention, we will give Obama a huge advantage.
On the other hand, if our ticket were intact and the party were unified early, such as by next spring, fundraising would be much easier and our team would be tested and seasoned well ahead of the fall campaign. We can’t just count on a bad economy to defeat Obama for us. If the routine process is left intact, I am sure we will produce a nominee who will have some good moments in the fall going head to head with Obama. But we must assume that the president will still have a lot of personal goodwill, that he will still give good speeches and that the Democrats will have an advantage in money and organization.
Let’s try something different. Take the best team the party can offer and get it started early. Let’s give ourselves a chance. We can’t compete with the Obama team on its terms or on its preferred calendar.
The writer, a former White House staffer to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, is chairman of BGR Group, a Washington lobbying firm.