Huntsman: I sure hope the GOP becomes a “sane” party again someday

posted at 6:55 pm on January 9, 2012 by Tina Korbe

Jon Huntsman sure does know how to win over undecided conservative voters. In a recent conversation with Politico, the former Utah governor said he thinks the GOP will cycle back to sanity in the future. The implication that the Republican Party is currently mired in a kind of insanely extreme conservatism was clear.

In an interview Friday, the Utah governor turned China ambassador said bluntly that the GOP had lost its equilibrium in the Obama era but predicted it would eventually return to its bearings — and vindicate his own brand of pragmatism.

“I believe in the ideas put forward by Theodore White, the cycles of history,” Huntsman told POLITICO. “I believe we are in one such cycle. I think that cycle ultimately takes us to a sane Republican Party based on real ideas.”

Suggesting that the GOP currently is something other than sane isn’t the best way to win the support of Republican voters and may stir speculation that he’s preparing to launch a third-party bid. But Huntsman increasingly appears less focused on the political landscape of 2012 and more fixated on what his party will look like post-Obama — and what role he could have in it, come 2016.

All along, it has been hard to understand why Huntsman of all people shudders at a reddening GOP, why he wants to distance himself from the conservative movement, why he jockeys for a centrist position. After all, as Tim Carney at The Washington Examiner has pointed out, Huntsman actually governed as a conservative. Carney writes:

These days, a core liberal effort is tilting our tax code more severely against the wealthy, but Huntsman did the opposite as governor of Utah, creating a flat tax as part of the largest tax cut in state history.

While Rick Santorum is supposedly extreme for his defense of the unborn, Huntsman outlawed second-trimester abortion in Utah and made late-term abortion a felony, while signing every piece of pro-life legislation that came his way.

In the American Conservative magazine, Michael Brendan Dougherty laid out Huntsman’s long list of accomplishments on the core conservative issues of “guns, babies, taxes.”

Huntsman has some moderate and liberal marks on his record, but far fewer than Mitt Romney, who once ran against Ted Kennedy from the left, and who created the prototype for Obamacare.

Even the various one-time official conservative standard-bearers in this race have records arguably to the left of Huntsman. Herman Cain and Rick Santorum endorsed Romney over more conservative candidates in 2008. Cain supported the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Santorum championed much of Bush’s big-government agenda and saved liberal Arlen Specter from a conservative primary challenge in 2004. Newt Gingrich’s dalliances with Nancy Pelosi and Freddie Mac are far to the left of anything Huntsman has done.

In other words, Huntsman might actually at his core be the purest conservative in the race. But, clearly, he didn’t want to be perceived as that. At every turn, he has made a point to cast himself as the “reasonable Republican,” the open-minded, pragmatic, anything-but-crazy candidate who believes in evolution and trusts scientists on global warming.

Huntsman reminds me of nothing so much as he reminds me of a conservative college student who hedges his views in an attempt to retain his professors’ good opinion. It’s understandable. Surely we’ve all gone through times when we didn’t necessarily like who we are or when we wanted to please others even if it meant pretending to be something we’re not exactly. Perhaps, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, Huntsman assumed the president’s progressivism would gain in popularity while his own conservatism would wane in appeal. Perhaps he feared success for a true conservative would be elusive in the new Obama era — so he did what he could to position himself to be successful in that era. He accepted the ambassadorship to China, and offered rhetorical support for pet liberal causes.

Carney suggests that Huntsman’s failure to gain traction in the 2012 race indicates that the GOP base has fallen for Huntsman’s failed identity politics and now favors style over substance. That is, Carney seems to think voters should look to Huntsman’s record only — and not to the “moderate” mantle Huntsman has self-consciously (if stupidly) assumed in his attempt to win the GOP nomination — to assess him. But I’d argue Huntsman’s failure to gain traction signals that voters rarely like a candidate who isn’t comfortable in his own skin. Hardly anything is as uninspiring or as easily dismissed as a person who is not even convinced of himself.

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When most of you use the term Conservative, you refer to Social Conservatism, which is certainly at odds with limited government and individualism. And I certainly prefer that, to this social conservative evangelistic nanny statism, that belongs back in the Democratic Party it came from.

firepilot on January 9, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Keep denigrating social conservatives and wonder why you can’t get any fiscal conservatives elected. Or recognize your potential political allies and work with them on common ground.

tom on January 10, 2012 at 12:21 AM

Keep denigrating social conservatives and wonder why you can’t get any fiscal conservatives elected. Or recognize your potential political allies and work with them on common ground.

tom on

Actually its the Social Conservatives, who are the “My way or the Highway” single issue type voters, that care nothing about what the Republican Party is supposed to be about, and are just looking for a vehicle to promote their social nanny statism.

Why is it that the steering wheel needs to be handed over to all of you, of the Republican Party, and the traditionalists who believe in limited government and individualism are just supposed to compromise with all of you?

If limited government and individualism was so antithetical to social conservatives, then why did not they found their own party, rather than expect the GOP to water down its traditional platform in order to be some Southern Baptist adjunct?

After all, Social Conservatives loved the New Deal, FDR, LBJ, and could not wait to get behind Jimmy Carter in 76. And again why, should they be the ones who get to determine who is a real Republican, when they just use ideals based off of 1950s Democrat party ideas?

firepilot on January 10, 2012 at 1:12 AM

Serving as ambassador for a President of the opposing party, implies that you’re going to be an extension of his or her global outlook.

I’m sorry, I can’t imagine outside of wanting power or political prestige why one would take on that role without on some level agreeing with that same global outlook yourself.

And its totally insane to consider replacing Obama with one of his one time appointees. If we are going to do that, lets just jump right to Hillary – it would be more honest.


They serve as the Ambassador of AMERICA, not just of their President. I just can not understand this blind hatred of the idea of serving ones country, just because the President is someone you disagree with.

I wonder how many of you who hold this against Obama, would turn such a position down, or would turn down federal job or federal contract over it? Would you also have the same antipathy towards someone who enlists, knowing that Obama is the Commander in Chief?

Because I do not see much of a difference, in someone enlisting in the military, or accepting an officer commision, or accepting an Ammbassadorship, in how that is in ones countries service?

My idea of America is not just about Barack Obama, but of the 300 million people that are citizens, and if I had the chance to serve my country, I would take it, regardless of who the President is. To not serve all the citizens, because of some hatred of the head of the executive branch, seems a bit small minded to me.

firepilot on January 10, 2012 at 1:19 AM

The two major parties are currently liberals and Marxists. The GOP is a liberal party that, after a couple decades of creeping to the left, is finally being yanked back toward conservatism, sanity and responsibility by the tea party movement. This is what both the party and the country need. If this year’s election goes as well as ’10 went, I may even consider rejoining the Republican party.

Huntsman was my governor and was decent at that job, but his insistence that the GOP’s recent move to the right is insane is just plain stupid.

Conservatism works – always has and always will. Liberalism and everything to the left of it does not. That is where you will find huge, counterproductive government programs which exacerbate every problem they were supposed to fix. The ideology of the left is the very definition of insanity.

I’m just glad nobody knows or cares who this guy is because I couldn’t take another 4 years of a President who speaks to the country like were a pack of unruly toddlers. It’s time to put a real grown-up in charge. Huntsman is not the man for the job.

Wingo on January 10, 2012 at 1:46 AM

Believing in evolution and human-influenced global warming by themselves shouldn’t be ideological litmus tests for conservatism; the big difference is how one responds to the scientific facts. Liberals demand more government intervention (global warming) and justify their crass anti-spiritualism (evolution).

And what, exactly, is Huntsman pretending not to be? Just because he seems pragmatic and open to opposing ideas doesn’t make him any less of a conservative. Especially, as Tina points out, in light of his very conservative record compared to his competitors. I do agree that he should do more to signal that he’s actually “on the side” of most conservative voters and follow the Chris Christie mold in strongly articulating his more popular conservative positions (not to mention fire Jon Weaver).

Finally, I take issue with the characterization of the “…conservative college student who hedges his views in an attempt to retain his professors’ good opinion.” There’s a difference between changing the content of one’s arguments and making an argument in a more civil and productive manner. Acknowledging the very real limitations and drawbacks of some conservative policies shouldn’t make someone a “squish”; it should be encouraged and celebrated as the kind of hard-nosed confrontation with reality that many conservatives rightly cheer.

HayekFriendlyCon on January 10, 2012 at 3:35 AM

Nothing like insulting the rest of us to win the nomination.
Go write more love letters to Obama…

TexasJew on January 10, 2012 at 5:22 AM

You know, if that “insane conservative” stuff bothers you so much *untsman, maybe you’re running in the wrong party’s primary.

VelvetElvis on January 10, 2012 at 7:36 AM

And I certainly prefer that, to this social conservative evangelistic nanny statism, that belongs back in the Democratic Party it came from.

firepilot on January 9, 2012 at 8:08 PM

Fiscal and social conservatives need to realize they are two sides of the same coin.

Lean, limited government is the best way to protect traditional values (Big Government is like acid on values; everyone starts thinking like lawyers), and without traditional values it is impossible to keep government lean and limited (when tradition breaks down, people unite into identity groups all screaming for a bigger piece of pie).

fadetogray on January 10, 2012 at 7:44 AM

I as a tpp can leave and let the gop become a minority party forever you not too bright man.

mmcnamer1 on January 10, 2012 at 8:25 AM

I as a tpp can leave and let the gop become a minority party forever you not too bright man.

mmcnamer1 on January 10, 2012 at 8:25 AM

What is “not too bright” is someone who professes to believe in the value of limited government talking about letting Obama continue to rule.

If you want 4 more years of Obama, then go for it. While you’re at it, you might want to think about heading on over to dkos where they appreciate that kind of unhinged thinking.

fadetogray on January 10, 2012 at 8:48 AM

A few years back the Republican Party commissioned a study of their base. They discovered that the largest segment were people who were both social and fiscal conservatives, a much smaller segment who were fiscal conservatives only, and the smallest segment were social conservatives only.

So most of the social conservatives in the Republican party are more than sympathetic to fiscal conservative issues, even if they aren’t the SoCal’s top hot buttons. Alienating them just insures you’re isolated and ineffective.

LarryD on January 10, 2012 at 11:14 AM

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