What a primary can do to a candidate

Remember when Jon Huntsman, the so-called moderate of the Republican presidential field, was saying sensible things about climate change? Well, forget it.

Jon Huntsman attended a packed blogger sit down at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro attended, pressing the GOP presidential candidate about his position on climate change.

In August, Huntsman acknowledged the broad body of science pointing to climate change. Seated at an elite conservative think tank, however, Huntsman played a different tune, saying climate scientists “owe us more” information before we can decide if climate change is real.

“I think there’s probably more debate to be played out within the scientific community,” he said.

For those who haven’t been following him closely, it’s important to realize that Huntsman was not only a voice of sanity on climate change; he actually seemed to take some pride in using the issue to differentiate himself from his Republican rivals. The former governor used to even support cap and trade.

Asked about climate change in May, Huntsman said, “All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them.”

Responding to Rick Perry in August, Huntsman said, “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem…. When we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man’s contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”

Around the same time, Huntsman boasted, “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

What was “crazy” was thinking Huntsman could thrive in national Republican politics saying sane things about science. Now that the pressure’s on, he’s pulling a Romney, abandoning what he knows to be true, and desperately trying to tell his party’s right-wing base what it wants to hear.