Column, 586 words

Don’t Bet on Huntsman

Huntsman might be that magic Republican: one orthodox enough to win the GOP nomination but flexible enough to succeed in the general election. I wouldn't bet on it.

Donald Kaul

Jon Huntsman is edging closer to announcing his presidential bid, bringing shivers of joy to the hearts of Republican moderates — both of them.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor, recently resigned his post as U.S. ambassador to China (as in “Barack Obama’s ambassador to China”) and dropped hints that he is considering taking on his former boss in 2012.

The very fact that he was once able to win the hearts of the redder-than-red folks in Utah yet later serve President Obama in an important post is offered as evidence that he might be that magic politician serious Republicans have been looking for — one orthodox enough to win the GOP nomination but flexible enough to succeed in the general election.

I wouldn’t bet on it. Many GOP primary voters are unforgiving zealots, and among the things they won’t forget is Huntsman’s support, tentative though it was, for gay civil unions and his acquiescence to aspects of Obama’s stimulus plan.

huntsman
Creative Commons photograph by World Economic Forum.

Never mind that he’s an obviously intelligent man of unimpeachable integrity who has made himself an expert on China, the most important nation in our future.

He’s a former Obama appointee, and in the eyes of the primary loonies he will never live that down. They much prefer a politician like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who refused to meet with Obama when he delivered an immigration reform speech in El Paso.

And even if Huntsman were somehow to nab the nomination, he remains a Republican moderate, which is a whole different kind of moderation.

As Utah governor, he was considered one of the nation’s foremost foes of a woman’s right to choose. He signed an anti-choice bill that made it a felony to obtain a late-term abortion, as well as another that requires doctors to describe to patients the pain an abortion would inflict on a fetus. He has played with the idea of banning abortion altogether. That kind of moderation.

He’s solid on business taxes — he’s against them — and he’s as pro-gun as you can get.

All of which gets you votes in Utah. But in California? Not so much. I suspect that if he decides to run for the White House, he won’t run far.

Never fear, Mr. and Mrs. Republican. Newt Gingrich, you’ll be happy to know, has already made his presidential bid official. As have Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, and Ron Paul, the libertarian lawmaker who believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are “unconstitutional.”

You know a political party’s in trouble when washed-up has-beens like Newt Gingrich begin picturing themselves on Air Force One. Gingrich comes to the fight with more baggage than the lost-and-found at LaGuardia airport.

He’s on his third marriage, this time with the woman he was dating while still married to his second wife. He led the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and became Speaker of the House, but was forced from office by his colleagues after a few short years.

Which is illustrative of Newt’s problem. Not only does he have enemies, his friends hate him.

One thing about him, however: ideology will not be a problem. If you don’t like one of his ideas, wait a bit. He’ll change it. He has been on more sides of the Libyan issue, for example, than there are sides. Still, it’s good to have him around again. What would politics be without its washed-up has-beens?

The GOP’s cup runneth over.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. www.otherwords.org