Huntsman’s mandate problem gets much worse

Jon Huntsman certainly isn’t the only Republican presidential candidate who supported an individual health care mandate. He is, apparently, the only one who persists in fudging the truth about it.

Two weeks ago, Huntsman and his team assured reporters that the former governor did not back a mandate as part of his reform package in Utah, adding that Huntsman’s record on health care reform stands in stark contrast to the measures backed by President Obama and Mitt Romney.

There’s ample evidence that Huntsman just wasn’t telling the truth, and that as governor, he threw his support to a reform package that included a mandate. Today, a conservative blog moves the ball forward with a video clip from 2007.

Asked specifically about his comfort level on a “mandate,” the then-governor replied during a televised press conference, “I’m comfortable with a requirement [to have coverage]. You can call it what you want, but at some point, we’re going to have to get serious about how we deal with this issue.” He added that there’s already a mandate in place, “It’s called the emergency room…. We’re living today in an environment, to be sure, where there’s a mandate in place. It’s really whether you want to make the system more efficient.”

Of course, I’m going to find this sort of rhetoric pretty compelling, but that’s not good news for Huntsman — I’m a lefty and not the target audience for a Republican presidential candidate hoping to impress the Republican base. I agree with what Huntsman said in 2007 because the line he took at the time is fairly progressive.

But putting that aside, the larger problem for Huntsman is that this deals with his veracity as a candidate. If the former Obama administration official simply changed his mind about a controversy, he can try to explain his shift. But Huntsman is playing a dishonest game — he endorsed a mandate, publicly and privately, and continues to deny what is plainly true, even in the face of clear evidence.

Candidates generally find it easier to change direction than to be get caught in a lie. Flip-flopping can be embarrassing for a presidential candidate, but dishonesty has the potential to be far more damaging.

Huntsman isn’t even a formal candidate yet, and he seems to already be slipping into some disturbing habits.