Jon Huntsman Jr., who launched his Republican presidential campaign this morning, recently spoke to reporters in New Hampshire. The New York Times noted the candidate’s interesting choice of words to describe his ideology.
Huntsman refused to make any sweeping or personal criticisms of the president he used to serve; the furthest he would go, pressed by reporters at a news conference in a living room in Hancock, was to suggest that Obama pursued some policies he might not have, like sending the military into Libya. At that same news conference, he also refused, bizarrely, to describe himself as a conservative. Huntsman said he didn’t like political labels, but if he had to pick one, he considered himself a “pragmatic problem-solver.” [emphasis added]
It’s almost hard to believe. In 2011, with the radicalization of the Republican Party reaching levels unseen in generations, a GOP presidential candidate doesn’t even want to call himself a conservative.
And he expects to win.
I can appreciate all of the reasons to take Huntsman seriously as a candidate, at least in theory. He’s the only Republican with any foreign policy experience; his many center-left views might make him appealing to swing voters; he’s been adopted by the ’08 McCain staff; and the media loves Huntsman to such an embarrassing extent I half-expect editors to start drawing little hearts around pictures of him before publication.
But Huntsman is a moderate in an era when Republicans don’t like moderates.
Huntsman believes “health care is a right,” and Republicans believe the opposite. He believes climate change is real and endorsed a cap-and-trade plan to address is, and Republicans believe the opposite. He supported an individual mandate as part of health care reform, and Republicans believe the opposite. Huntsman wanted a bigger stimulus in 2009 with fewer tax cuts, expressed support for the Affordable Care Act, and has endorsed civil unions, TARP, and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who entered the country illegally. Republicans are on the opposite side of all of these issues.
Oh, and he’s also a former member of the Obama administration who called President Obama a “remarkable leader.”
The Republican base has gone to great lengths to target so-called RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in all kinds of down-ballot primaries across the country. We’re to believe this same base will tolerate a moderate as their presidential nominee?
Sure, Huntsman will start engaging in Romney-like flip-flops and try to reinvent himself. And sure, the media’s sycophantic adulation will give the guy a boost his rivals probably won’t enjoy.
But when push comes to shove, what are the chances Republican voters will nominate a former member of Obama’s team who doesn’t even want to describe himself as conservative? Strange things happen, but I’m hard pressed to imagine how anything this strange happens.