Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Why not Huntsman?
My younger son, Adam, asked in a comment to my "None of the Above" post just below "what the problem is" that blocks serious consideration of Jon Huntsman as a potential GOP presidential nominee. My blogospheric friends Milhouse and Gregory Koster left interesting responses to Adam's question, but I decided to post my own reply as a new post rather than a comment to that one. Thus:
My reservations about Governor Huntsman — or, to be impliedly less flattering to him, Ambassador Huntsman — aren't primarily that he's "insufficiently conservative." He was dim on climate change/cap and trade, but that's mostly a moot point as a specific policy matter. It does leave a troubling example of him buying into a liberal narrative that was so potentially devastating to the economy without managing to grasp the reasons for skepticism about the warming alarmists' dire predictions. So it's no more than one troubling data point for me.
Rather, my main objection to Huntsman is that he'd done nothing before this campaign season to merit America's attention as a plausible President of the United States. It's what I perceive to be a lack of demonstrated fitness for the job, either in an absolute sense or in comparison to the current available alternatives. Six months ago the question that potential GOP primary voters had about Jon Huntsman was not "Is he sufficiently conservative?" but rather, "Jon who?"
If he did anything particularly distinguished as Obama's ambassador to China (other than resign, and that to run for office rather than over some principled critique of Obama's foreign policy or even China policy), I'm unaware of that. Neither am I aware of any disaster on his relatively short watch, and I'll grant that China is an important ambassadorship — it was a résumé credential for George H.W. Bush, too, some will recall. But Bush was the quasi-ambassador immediately after Nixon re-established relations, during an even more challenging time (when the concern wasn't the Chinese manipulating currency rates so much as it was the Red Army); and it didn't amount to almost half of Bush-41's overall résumé content, either (as Huntsman's ambassadorship does for his résumé).
Likewise, it appears from what I've read and heard that Huntsman was a reasonably competent, reasonably conservative Utah governor during his two terms there. That's nice, but it's not nearly so demanding a job as being governor of a big state, or a border state, or a racially and ethnically diverse state. And Huntsman (like Rick Perry, but unlike Mitt Romney) didn't have to do a lot of swimming upstream; he apparently governed from midstream in a broadbased conservative constituency. There are several dozen current and recent GOP governors who've actually made a national impression with their work — Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Bobby Jindahl, and Nikki Haley immediately pop to mind. Why should I prefer Huntsman to peers who've accomplished much more, and against much more difficult odds?
As for his private industry credentials, he doesn't tout those much, and Huntsman Corporation has a fairly low profile among the general public; it was a company he took over from his dad, I believe, but I think it was generally well respected. Again, that's a nice credential; but there are surely thousands of business executives with comparable or better records — heck, there are probably dozens of businessmen who are also ex-ambassadors to somewhere with better records.
I am untroubled that he or Romney are LDS. He and all the other GOP candidates are somewhat to my right on at least some so-called "social issues" on which I trend more libertarian, but those issues are also relatively far down my priority list. However, my subjective personal reaction to Huntsman, based on his debate performances, has not been positive; he's not dynamic by nature and flails around badly when he tries to be. Poor dull Mitt at least had the sex appeal of association with the Winter Olympics that he rescued (in Huntsman's home state). Huntsman makes Mitt seem positively charismatic and spontaneous by comparison, which is a very tall order.
More worrisome to me: Not a single one of Huntsman's debate answers left me thinking, "Wow, I can imagine myself voting for him! I can imagine lots of conservatives voting for him!" In baseball terms, he's laid down a few sacrifice bunts to advance another runner, and he might even have beat out the throw to first himself a time or two — but he's never had a solid hit into the outfield, much less a multi-bagger or a home run, in many dozens of at-bats now.
(Romney, by contrast, bats for average, and Newt, of course, swings for the fences. Perry has set new records for going down swinging at strikes, and it seems that Cain has been ejected, fairly or not. Nor Luap is somewhere in the left outfield bleachers, or maybe he's playing cricket, who knows?)
No, Jon Huntsman has had his chances with me and with most other Republican partisans who've been paying close attention — more chances, frankly, than he deserved, and that's been a consequence of too many debates with too many unserious candidates included too late in the process. Yet he's still polling no better than 2.5 to 3% nationally. The left-leaning (and sometimes non-credible) PPP service reported back in July that more Utah respondents had a negative impression (46%) of Huntsman than a positive impression (43%), and that Romney was pulling in 63% of Utah Republicans to lead the then-current pack, with favorite son Huntsman a distant second place at 10%.
Huntsman's current wavelet among bloggers and others in the chattering classes isn't likely to translate into broad support, because I'm pretty sure more than half of all American voters still couldn't pick Huntsman out of a police lineup, or tell you three significant things about him. I'm supposed to believe that he's somehow transformed himself from an also-ran into a contender? When did that happen? What's the evidence for it? I don't see it. He's not even well known enough yet outside of Utah to be very many people's second or third choice. So convince me that he's going to beat the guy who, in 2008, brought out a record 69.4 million Americans to vote for him, even though Huntsman has spent months consistently languishing below 5% in anyone's and everyone's GOP primary polling. Tell me why the GOP ought to put all its hopes for defeating Barack Obama on someone pulled from obscurity, if at all, not on the basis of his own accomplishments, but only because of intense GOP hunger for a better candidate than any of the current or recent front-runners?
So, you ask me: Why not Huntsman? My answer is that I never get to that question, because he never passes my threshold inquiry: Why Huntsman? He had never earned an important or serious position on my political radar screen before this election cycle, even though I've been a fairly close student of current affairs and political players. And he's done nothing since becoming a candidate to change that. That I'm still at least somewhat dissatisfied with the major candidates currently in the race isn't going to cause me to abandon my standards entirely, and while of course I'd vote for Huntsman in the unlikely event he gets the nomination, I personally rank him below (in alphabetical order) Gingrich, Perry, Romney, and even Santorum (i.e., I rank him ahead of only Bachmann and Nor Laup).
Thursday, December 08, 2011
Could "None of the Above" still join the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination?
Conservatives like me who haven't quite gotten comfortable with any of the existing GOP presidential candidates yet may be intrigued by Larry Sabato's analysis of the obstacles and odds that would confront a late entrant into the race.
The current selection system guarantees that a relatively small number of voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have a wildly disproportionate impact every single election cycle. They've seized this power arbitrarily, and they maintain it for absolutely no reason other than that they've threatened to hold their noses and turn blue (i.e., hold their 2012 primaries in 2011) if their childish demands for primacy aren't respected by everyone else. This is profoundly anti-democratic (small "d"), and I will work to reform and replace that system regardless of the results of this cycle.
For now, speculation like Sabato's remains improbable. But it's a good excuse for me not to change my side-bar endorsement ("Draft Paul Ryan") for at least a few more weeks.