Why is Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman struggling to win over GOP voters? It probably has something to do with his willingness to occasionally be sane.

Jon Huntsman criticized his competitors in the Republican presidential primary field, claiming they had irresponsibly advocated economic default during this summer’s debt-ceiling debate.

“Every single Republican I was running against was in favor of basically defaulting,” Huntsman said in an interview with New Hampshire’s Daily Telegraph editorial board. “I mean I just couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I mean, what world was everyone living in?”

This isn’t ancient history; Huntsman is referring to a period of time I like to refer to as “four months ago.” As for what world they were living in, those Republicans are still living in the exact same world — not one GOP leader or GOP candidate has expressed even the slightest regret for holding the nation hostage, threatening to crash the economy on purpose, and welcoming the prospect of default.

Huntsman looks back at the summer and thinks he deserves credit for being the only sane Republican who wasn’t inviting default. This might be a more effective pitch if his party is just as unhinged now as it was then.

On a related note, before anyone starts to think Huntsman is a sensible guy with mainstream, moderate beliefs, let’s not overlook what else he said in the same interview.

In the same interview, Huntsman also touted his support for House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) deficit-reduction plan. The plan proposes Medicare reforms that would effectively change the entitlement program into a voucher system for Americans currently under 55.

“I like the Ryan plan,” Huntsman said. “I’m the only candidate who has embraced the Ryan plan.”

Let’s not overlook the significance of comments like these. The so-called moderate of the Republican presidential field — the one who’s so centrist, he can’t break the 3% ceiling in national polls — is an enthusiastic supporter of a budget plan that cut taxes by $4 trillion, eliminated Medicare, gutted Medicaid, cut domestic spending to dangerous and job-killing levels, and slashing benefits to the elderly, the disabled, and low-income families. At the time, polls showed the plan was the exact opposite of what Americans were looking for — they Ryan plan killed programs the public wants expanded, and cut taxes the public wants raised.

What’s more, when it came to the plan’s ostensible goals — fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction — the entire approach was exposed as a fraud.

And yet, there’s Jon Huntsman, the least offensive Republican presidential candidate, who’s only too pleased to boast about how much he loves this ridiculous budget plan.

This is what passes for moderation in Republican politics in 2011.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.