What was Jon Huntsman Thinking?
by Noah Glyn | Rutgers University
Imagine you were the conservative governor of the one of the most conservative states in the country. You are pro-life, anti-gun control, pro-school choice, pro-tax cut, pro-shrinking the size of government, pro-market based health care solutions, and pro-asserting U.S. interests abroad. You have been a consistent conservative Republican your entire career, which includes extensive diplomatic service. You have never been engulfed in scandal, and your family looks like they just walked off a Norman Rockwell canvas.
If you decided to run for president, what would be the worst possible strategy you could pursue? You would be hard pressed to come up with a dumber strategy than to run as the most liberal Republican in the race. But that is exactly what former-Utah governor and ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, did this election. At a time when the Republican party was looking for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, Huntsman ran to his left. At a time when the conservative movement was looking for some red meat, the Huntsman campaign offered an arugula salad.
Huntsman lacks all the problems of the other candidates in the race. Romney has flipped and flopped on many issues over his political career, and is distrusted by many conservatives. Rick Santorum lost his 2006 Senate reelection bid by 18 points. Newt Gingrich’s reign as Speaker of the House was so divisive that his Republican colleagues forced him out, and he has displayed a desire to expand the size and scope of the federal government–something antithetical to the philosophy of many Republican voters. Ron Paul is seemingly unelectable and once left the Republican party to protest the policies of the sainted Ronald Reagan. Rick Perry’s verbal stumbles made it painfully obvious that he was unprepared to run for President, and, if the opportunity ever presented itself, President Obama would destroy him in a debate.
And then there’s Huntsman. He hasn’t changed his positions like Romney, didn’t lose reelection like Santorum, wasn’t kicked out of office by fellow Republicans like Gingrich, never left the party like Paul, and doesn’t stumble over his words like Perry.
Huntsman could have been the competent alternative to Romney, the conservative truth-teller for those who didn’t want to vote for Gingrich, the candidate to find a new way forward in Afghanistan for the voters who were scared away by Paul, and, yes, a social conservative whose views on gay marriage are to the right of Dick Cheney and in line with George W. Bush, but who would still attract social moderates and liberals.
Instead he decided to be the MSNBC Republican of the race–the candidate for the self-hating conservatives. He was the righteous observer of Republican politics, who stood on the side, shaking his head with disgust as he watched his fellow conservatives debate. He came off as the guy who kept a bottle of Purrell in his jacket pocket–just in case he had to grasp the hands of a fellow conservative, he could quickly sanitize his hands.
Huntsman’s campaign strategy is inexplicable. Instead of courting conservatives, he chose to insult them. He portrayed himself as the Republican who “believes in science,” as opposed to all the neanderthal voters. Belief in evolution and global warming is fine, but Huntsman took a derogatory tone, making it seem like he was too good for the people whom he was expecting votes from. This was politically stupid for two reasons: first, he is running for Commander-in-Chief, not Scientist-in-Chief, and Presidents don’t determine scientific consensuses. Second, Huntsman earned a degree in international politics (according to Wikipedia), not in biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy or anything else like that. Why in the world should anyone care what Jon Huntsman thinks is happening to our atmosphere? He has just as much insight as I do, which is to say, none.
More recently, Huntsman attempted to attract more conservative voters to his candidacy. The Huntsman campaign frequently cited columnist George Will’s statement that Huntsman’s “program is the most conservative” out of all the candidates. He embraced Paul Ryan’s proposed reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, and he offered a pro-growth tax reform.
By all accounts, though, it was too little too late. After placing all his political resources in New Hampshire, Huntsman won the bronze with almost 17 percent of the vote. It’s hard to see how he has a path forward to continue his candidacy, which is a shame. He is an impressive individual who happened to run an unimpressive campaign.
Now the campaign is onward to South Carolina, where, according to the Real Clear Politics average, he is polling at 2.3 percent. Huntsman began his speech Tuesday night by looking forward to the next primary, “Hello South Carolina!” Instead, he should say goodbye to his presidential aspirations.Noah Glyn is an Agostinelli Fellow at the National Review, and a candidate for a master's degree in public policy from Rutgers University. He writes from a conservative perspective on economic, cultural, political, educational and foreign policy issues.