Former ambassador and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is working New Hampshire hard to win next year’s Republican primary there as a linchpin of his presidential campaign. He still registers a scant two percent in national GOP polls, but he is far and away the most impressive of the Republican field. Were he to capture the nomination, he’d give President Obama a run for his money.
He is informed, articulate, reasonable, practical and, contrary to how he sometimes projects on television, quite forceful and “presidential.” Best, he doesn’t march in lock-step with his party.
Some examples. Had Huntsman been able to, he would have supported unequivocally the debt ceiling compromise. He agrees we may be experiencing global warming. He supports civil unions. He believes in evolution. And still he thinks he can prevail in the Republican primaries because, he says, people are sick and tired of the side show – they want substance.
That’s what he delivered when he spoke yesterday to a packed NH Institute of Politics/New England Council crowd at St. Anselm’s College in Manchester, NH. His plan for the U. S. economy is clearcut. He attacks our debt – equaling 70 percent of GDP – as “a cancer metastasizing in the country.” He calls for a balanced budget amendment, going after all sacred cows, favorably looking to solutions like those offered by the Simpson/Bowles Commission or the Ryan plan, and growing manufacturing. To do the latter, he’d reform the tax code, lowering all rates, eliminating all loopholes and deductions, cutting corporate welfare (while lowering the business tax) and undertaking regulatory reform. His targets there would be outright repeal of Dodd-Frank and “Obamacare,” and serious rollbacks at the EPA and FDA.
No one would ever mistake Huntsman for a Democrat or even a Republican in the Rockefeller-Nixon tradition. I disagree with him on many issues. But he is not blindly locked into the narrow, reflexive, doctrinaire ideology of the other GOP candidates.
And he brings a lot more to the foreign policy table than do his primary opponents. He has served under four U. S. Presidents—under Ronald Reagan, as part of the White House staff; under George H.W. Bush as ambassador to Singapore; under George W. Bush as trade representative; and, with that in his portfolio, as ambassador to China in the Obama administration.
While he is glad that Libya may be throwing off the shackles of Muammar Gaddafi, he doesn’t believe that Libya is or was a core U.S. concern. Nor does he believe we should be doing nation building in Afghanistan or Pakistan. “We need to shore up our own core,” he said, Pakistan and Afghanistan should take care of themselves.
China is probably the nation of greatest concern to the United States, especially in the global economy. As Ambassador to China, Huntsman lived there for two years, speaks fluent Mandarin and interacted with Chinese people from the highest officials to the people in the street. Imagine a president with that facility!
Before he took on that ambassadorial role, he served two terms as Governor of Utah, cutting taxes and earning accolades for his management of government. He left office with an 80 percent approval rating. Somewhere along the line, he was CEO of his family’s company. (And by the way, quite charmingly, he also rides a motorcycle and played keyboard in a band.)
Prevailing in the Republican primary is a stretch for him. Huntsman has already had to temporize on some long-held positions, especially in the area of green energy. He has not performed particularly well jumping through hoops in GOP debate situations, and his campaign is dogged by staff turmoil and reorganizations.
In a reasonable primary environment, he might have a chance. But GOP voters this year are out for raw red meat, or so the candidates believe. Huntsman may not be enough of a feral creature for them. That’s too bad, because a Huntsman-Obama race would be fascinating to watch and could lead to an informative public dialogue. Maybe this is just a national introductory tour, with the expectation that the party will select an unelectable purist, go down to ignominious defeat and leave him to pick up the pieces four years from now.
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