Second look at ... Jon Huntsman?

With the Cain campaign starting to list, the question of the next Not-Romney has already arisen.  According to a few pundits, it may be time to take a second look at … Jon Huntsman?

For Tea Party poobah Erick Erickson, last weekend was not a good one. After a week of watching Herman Cain bobble and blunder his way through a cringe-inducing series of sexual-harassment allegations, Erickson found himself in a bar with some like-minded buddies discussing the abysmal state of the Republican field.

Erickson, a CNN contributor who runs the influential right-wing blog, had come to a grim epiphany. If someone new didn’t step up soon, Mitt Romney was going to win the nomination—and kill American conservatism in the process.

“My God,” he told his friends. “I think I might have to eat my ‘never ever vote for Jon Huntsman’ post.” They laughed, but Erickson tells The Daily Beast, “they’d come to the exact same conclusion.”

The barroom bull session was the genesis of a pair of RedState posts on Tuesday that argued it might be time for Tea Partiers to give Huntsman a second look. Those searching for a viable anti-Romney candidate are running out of options, he argued: Michele Bachmann flamed out long ago, Rick Perry’s dismal debate performances have all but sunk his campaign, and by the time Cain emerges from this mess of scandals, he’ll likely be too battered to maintain frontrunner status.

Will Cain offered a similar argument yesterday at The Blaze, not in support of Huntsman, but in support of a fresh perspective on his record:

Say…did you know that only one Republican candidate for president (this year, no 1964 tricks this time) has endorsed Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal? Who? Oh, the same guy who advocates a full repeal of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and was one of the first to propose a radical restructure of the IRS tax code…Jon Huntsman. (Mitt Romney has come close to endorsing Ryan’s Medicare proposal.)

“What??!!!” You say again.  “I don’t want to hear that @#$!. Huntsman is a moderate, a RINO, a liberal!”  Yes…yes…I know.

For Chris Matthews or James Carville or Pat Robertson (!?) the fact that Jon Huntsman – a candidate that would privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and drop the corporate income tax from 35% to 25% – is called a moderate is evidence that the Republican Party has been captured by extremists.  But I don’t think so.

It’s not a problem that Republican presidential candidates will “not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before first determining whether it is constitutionally permissible.” It’s not a problem that they show “little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient”, rather they talk of “reducing its size.”   And it’s not a problem that their “aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them.” …

Substance is not the problem. Style is the problem.   If Republicans have indulged in any extremism…it’s the extremism of style.

In other words, Cain thinks that Huntsman’s real problem is that he’s been too reasonable, while candidates like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain have been rewarded mainly for their fiery rhetoric.  That could very well be the case; it certainly was a problem for Tim Pawlenty, whose low-key, nice-guy approach clearly did not match the mood of the electorate.  Pawlenty tried sounding tougher on the stump, but that was obviously not natural for him.  Huntsman has had the same problem, especially in debates, where his attempts at humorous barbs fall flat — a point with which Will Cain rather enthusiastically agrees, advising Huntsman to knock it off.

However, Huntsman has two more substantive problems.  First, he’s advocated for government solutions to global warming (as did Pawlenty at one point, but who also entirely recanted), which is anathema to the conservative base.  Newt Gingrich has only flirted with that idea and it’s still an albatross to his ability to win conservative support.  Second, Huntsman took a job in the Obama administration and stayed in it for two years, only resigning when it became obvious he wanted to run for President.  Republicans will have a very difficult time overlooking that decision, even moderates — which is probably why Huntsman remains mired in the statistical-noise category of the primary race polling.

If conservatives want a new Not-Romney, Gingrich makes more sense than Huntsman.  Gingrich has been far more involved in conservative grassroots organizing, has arguably offered fewer moments of heterodoxy from the conservative agenda, and masters the art of political debate.  That doesn’t mean that conservatives will fall in love with Gingrich either, but he’s already picking up polling momentum and would have a shorter road to travel to challenge Mitt Romney for the nomination.