By Bob Gaydos
While seven of the usual suspects were in Las Vegas engaged in an all-out food fight centering around Mitt Romney, the only Republican presidential candidate who doesn’t come off as a cartoon of him or her self was in New Hampshire appealing to the reasonableness of the voters of the Granite State.
Poor Jon Huntsman. His campaign is just about out of money. He is polling about 7 percent among potential Republican voters. And yet he insists on trying to run a campaign grounded in what most people would regard as reality. He doesn’t stand a chance, not in the Mad Hatter tea party that is today’s GOP.
Huntsman was really in trouble from day one of his campaign and the fact that he is a Mormon was the least of his intra-party challenges. A staunch right-to-life, pro-gun, fiscally conservative former governor of Utah, Huntsman has also been an outspoken opponent of the war in Afghanistan, favors civil unions for same-sex couples, almost enacted a mandated health care plan in Utah and believes scientists who say the earth is heating up and that it is a problem.
Recognizing that some of those positions differ from some of the louder elements of his party, Huntsman nevertheless threw his hat in the ring, saying, “It's OK -- you've got to be who you are and march forward. Some people will like it. And I believe that in the end people will look at the totality of what it is you stand for, the totality of what you've done, and then make an informed decision."
Yeah, well, sorry about that, Jon. That reasonable-sounding approach to campaigning is probably Huntsman’s most serious disconnect from the reality of Republican politics today. If you do not adopt the orthodoxy of the outspoken, pro-religion, anti-government extreme right wing GOP minority these days, you do not get their primary support -- be it votes or dollars. It has led front-runner Mitt Romney, another Mormon former governor, to come across as a hypocrite. Romney has reversed his position on every possible issue since becoming a candidate -- and a wooden one at that.
It’s what happened to John McCain in 2008 when he captured the GOP nomination. Huntsman was one of McCain’s national campaign chairmen, so he saw how swallowing one’s principles is the key to success in the modern GOP. Yet there was Huntsman in New Hampshire Tuesday telling a Washington Post writer, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
We’ll leave that for Rick Santorum, Jon.
Huntsman’s boycott of the Las Vegas debate -- a statement about Nevada’s jumping in line ahead of the traditional first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary -- was accompanied by another moderate-sounding broadside in the Wall Street Journal.
In an opinion page article, Huntsman said President Barack Obama's Wall Street reforms did not solve the problem of "too-big-to-fail" banks. Noting that, three years after the financial crisis, “the six largest American financial institutions are significantly bigger than they were before the crisis,” he said imposing a tax on these large institutions would be one way to lower the risk of a future bailout by taxpayers.
Well of course it would, Jon. That’s why the rest of your Republican would-be presidents oppose it. But I bet you’d get a warmer reception for the idea with the Occupy Wall Street crowd.
That’s Huntsman’s problem. He can see when the emperor is naked and can’t stop himself from saying so. That, and the fact that he actually worked for Obama as ambassador to China.
This, too, is regarded as a negative in some Republican circles -- the fact that he was deemed qualified to handle one of the key U.S. diplomatic postings of the 21st century, by a president of the opposing party. Yet a pizza huckster with no government or foreign policy experience ranks among the leaders in the GOP primary polls based largely on a campaign that sounds like a TV ad: 999. One large pie with two toppings. Pickup only.
Huntsman says he hopes to convince the traditionally independent voters of New Hampshire to accept his reasonable brand of conservatism -- the way they did for McCain in 2000 -- then carry that victory to triumph in South Carolina.
Here again, I think Huntsman has lost touch with reality. If I’m one of the other seven candidates -- say Rick Perry -- I’m digging out Huntsman’s answer to a question at a GOP debate at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California on Sept. 7:
“Q: You have said the party is in danger of becoming anti-science. Who on this stage is anti-science?
“A: Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I'm saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science. We can't run from mainstream conservative philosophy. We've got to win voters; to reach out and bring in independents.”
Yeah, that’ll play well with the Bob Jones University crowd.