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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).

Posted by Beldar at 06:25 AM in 2012 Election, Politics (2011) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Charles Manning made the following comment | Dec 13, 2011 9:37:06 AM | Permalink

Interestingly, the most exciting candidate I know of comes out of the same culture, but has all the right ideas. I speak of Rocky Anderson. Check him out in the Wikipedia article about him. Progressives like me had nowhere to go until now, with Obama essentially morphing into Bush III and all the Republicans demonstrating what buffoonery is all about. Of course, I know you disagree. But I'd be interested in your take on Anderson.

(2) Greg Q made the following comment | Dec 13, 2011 12:57:45 PM | Permalink

Huntsman lost me permanently when he started out his campaign bashing conservative Republican voters and sucking up to the MSM and their worldview. Free hint for Republican candidates: if the press is your "base", you're not going to win the nomination.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything he could do that would make up for that.

(3) Le Messsurier made the following comment | Dec 13, 2011 4:28:30 PM | Permalink

While I agree with most of your conclusions about Huntsman, I disagree with your conclusions/inferences about his qualifications. Look up his Wikipedia article. In addition to being a fellow alum of UofP, he has a rather inpressive background: experience under mulitiple presidents; 2 time ambassador; deputy US trade representative; member white house staff underReagan) Deputy Assistant Secy of Commerce pus other, plus CEO of Huntsman (Chemical) Corporation, plus Governor of Utah. Rather impressive. Why he hasn't touted or used his experience in the debates is beyond me. He is definitley not charasmatic. I had high hopes for him and waited for him to announce. I've been disappointed and I agree with your conclusion: He is not my choice for president.

As for there being too many debates I disagree. I believe the American people have obtained more information about individuals' positions and qualifications, and more information about policy than in any other primary season. It sure is more informative than the 3 or 3 debate scenario we've had in the past and it sure is less expensive than TV Ads.

(4) Milhouse made the following comment | Dec 13, 2011 5:48:53 PM | Permalink

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?

Because none of them are running and he is. (By the way, add Haley Barbour to that list.)

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Dec 13, 2011 9:58:17 PM | Permalink

Milhouse, my friend, that he wants the job doesn't mean he's qualified for it. Any sensible person would recoil from the prospect of running for, and then serving in, this most difficult job in the world. I want someone who doesn't much want the job, but who feels pressed to do it out of duty and love for his or her country, and I think the nominating process needs comprehensive revision to permit voter preferences to coalesce around someone who hasn't spent their whole life running for president but who's obviously very well qualified for the job.

I know we can't make the position one of indentured servitude. I know it will still require candidates with healthy egos and self-confidence. But the system needs to be made responsive to national needs, not intergalactic ambition.

(6) Leon Dixon made the following comment | Dec 15, 2011 10:55:50 AM | Permalink

Glad you are posting-always worth a read. "Everyone else who has helped me over the years in both big and small ways, including....Jon Huntsman" Acknowledgements by Glenn Beck in his 2010 tome, BROKE. I don't know if it is the same Jon Huntsman but maybe others do or can find out if it is and/or if it is something worth knowing.

(7) Neo made the following comment | Dec 17, 2011 12:36:43 PM | Permalink

I wonder what his position is on the "Salamander Letters." Mitt's too.

I really worry about politicians who, not so much buy into a liberal narrative, but buy into the idea that "we have to get something done." I've seen plenty of corporate "dealmakers" who have no idea what is in the deals that they make, but they are accomplished "dealmakers" who are often burned badly on the back end.
I wish they would adopt the doctors' maxim, "primum non nocere," "first, do no harm".

(8) Dustin made the following comment | Dec 21, 2011 8:56:51 PM | Permalink

Glad to see you posting!

Wouldn't have noticed but for Aaron Worthing's sidebar (somehow it displays recent posts rather than just hyperlinks... which is a nice feature).

Anyway, one reason to rank Huntsman over Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels is that Huntsman is at least running.

And Huntsman was a pretty good governor, and to me, a reelected governor who did a good job is automatically impressive. Legislators can take breaks and duck hard calls, but governors deal with a lot of issues on a daily basis. Those who manage to be reelected these days are generally bright, and those who wield power lightly are usually fairly conservative.

My main problem with Huntsman is one many mention: he seems to have a problem with conservatives. He will go out of his way to criticize them with his rhetoric. This reminds me of Michael Steele and John Mccain, and so I am unconvinced he would lead the way he has in the past.

Newt, for all his various deviations, talks like conservatives generally have the right idea. He has some successes in his background. He's got a great command of the issues.

For me, Perry's record (admittedly he was not swimming upstream as Beldar notes) is much superior and Perry also provides great arguments and proposals showing the direction he wants us on is the one I agree with. I hope we nominate either Perry or Newt. I have reservations about the others, but other than Romney and Paul, they aren't deal breakers, and even with Romney, I know he's a substantial improvement over Obama.

I like Neo's point. Some of these leaders, and I think Huntsman lately, act like the government has to step in on all sorts of matters. Not with this deficit it doesn't. It's time for government to give up power, not take more.

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