The Republican strategist who helped Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman prepare for a possible presidential run says the Republican party is in for a devastating defeat if its guiding lights are Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Dick Cheney. “If it’s 2012 and our party is defined by Palin and Limbaugh and Cheney, then we’re headed for a blowout,” says strategist John Weaver, who advised Huntsman and was for years a close adviser to Sen. John McCain. “That’s just the truth.”…
In addition to being out of the 2012 presidential race, Huntsman is also out of the ongoing debate over the future of the Republican party. Quinn, who met with Huntsman during the visit to South Carolina, says the Utah governor “seemed to be highly motivated to try to re-brand the Republican party as an institution that can win elections all across the country.” Now, Huntsman won’t be doing that, not only because it would not be a proper role for an ambassador but also because he will be thousands of miles away in Beijing.
That leaves the wide-open GOP presidential field even more open than it had been before. Whatever happens, the way forward won’t likely be smooth; Weaver’s “headed for a blowout” comment indicates the depth of division over the GOP’s prospects. “I firmly believe that Huntsman and people like him are the prescription for what ails us,” says Weaver. “But I have the feeling that our party maybe won’t order that prescription in 2012.”
The “prescription” he has in mind isn’t all that different from what most mainstream Republican candidates believe. Like Ramesh Ponnuru says, Huntsman’s vaunted reputation for “moderation” rests mainly on his support for civil unions and the fact that he’s a bit noisier about the environment than most conservatives, two issues on which there’s plenty of room for people like Romney or Sarahcuda to “evolve.” The real sticking point, which Ramesh doesn’t note, is Huntsman’s cheerleading for the stimulus, a position so sour to the Republican base (just ask Specter, who’s now hitting up Hollywood liberals for donations) that I’m frankly amazed he thought he stood a chance in 2012. Although maybe he didn’t; maybe he knew defeat was a fait accompli next time and was thinking of using the campaign simply to build his national profile as the de facto leader of centrist Republicans ahead of the real race he was eyeing in 2016. I still think his new position on Team Barry was taken with that campaign in mind. But as I said on Saturday, I’m not sure how he gets back in the spotlight before then given the dearth of opportunities to run for higher office in Utah.
Here’s an interview he gave on the stimulus back in February, in case you were weeping over his departure. Exit question: Who recently lamented that the GOP is “stuck in a 1980s philosophy”? Hint: It wasn’t Huntsman.
Update: Another McCain comparison from another Huntsman admirer. Do his fans realize that Maverick analogies are emphatically not a good way to try to sell him to the Republican base?