Monday, June 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Huntsmans

HuntsmanAvatarPerhaps the Wall Street Journal said it best. "No Republican candidate stirs more curiosity than Jon Huntsman."

As if to make the statement a truism, Politico ran two interesting companion pieces over the weekend, aimed at sussing out the strengths and weaknesses of GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

The first piece is titled Jon Huntsman Fever: Catch It Here by Charles Mahtesian. The second piece is titled Buzzkill: The Problem with Jon Huntsman Hype by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei.

Both are interesting reads, but I've taken the liberty of summarizing the highlights for you below.

Strengths

  • American politics is wildly unstable right now. Voters want a clear vision for the future of the country that Huntsman can provide.
  • Huntsman is an unconventional candidate that rises above politics, poised to run during an unconventional election cycle.
  • Huntsman's personal narrative is compelling - á la Barack Obama circa. 2008.
  • Finally, "Huntsman also has all the hallmarks of a serious candidate." (e.g, "Money, telegenic looks, a solid grasp of the issues, a track record of political success and an ability to articulate a message.")
  • [Link]

Weaknesses

  • Huntsman has the wrong issues for the wrong party. Some of Huntman's policy positions just don't square with Republican voters (e.g., civil unions, and climate change).
  • Huntsman has the wrong persona for the wrong party. The GOP base is flat angry, and it "wants a brawler."
  • Huntman's tour of duty as ambassador to China under Obama is "all-but-disqualifying."
  • He may not have the chops to make it through the primary and general elections.
  • [Link]

Both articles did a nice job of framing Huntsman's plight, but neither article went much into substance. This is fairly rare, but for those looking for policy analysis, the Politico articles do not deliver. Contrast this with last week's Daily Caller article that rooted Huntsman's entire candidacy in his record of fiscal conservatism, and you get the sense that Politico missed a real opportunity here.

But insofar as superficialities are compelling to the American electorate - and they obviously are given the election of Barack Obama - it strikes me that neither piece got at the real core of Huntsman's problem: it's just plain hard to make reasonableness interesting.

The problem is not unique to Huntsman. To a lesser extent, this is Tim Pawlenty's problem as well, and Mitt Romney's too, although less so. All three have records as Governors of working across the aisle, and building governing coalitions that include members of the other party. In a country as divided as ours, this just makes sense. It's what any level-headed, goal-oriented administrator would do.

But as the Allen/VandeHei article explains, in a GOP primary field that includes firebrands like Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and possibly Rick Perry, the GOP base is more likely to get fired up by red meat than salmon, even if the latter is healthier for the party in the long run.

Huntsman will undoubtedly come across as a reasonable guy, with reasonable policy positions, but how will such views be received when other candidates want to solve our illegal immigration problem by building a Great Wall of China, and a moat with alligators along the U.S.-Mexico border?

Yet, as disaffected political acolyte, I cannot help but think that Huntsman is the future of the GOP. His positions resonate with younger voters far better than anyone else. And his promise of civility is sorely needed in a political climate that quite nearly welcomed Donald Trump to the field as a serious political candidate.

It's a long road to November 2012, but I honestly hope that the first Huntsman tale proves to be correct.

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