Jon Huntsman, in August:

To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.

And again:

The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012. When we take a position that isn’t willing to embrace evolution, 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.

Jon Huntsman, yesterday:

There are questions about the validity of the science — evidence by one university over in Scotland recently … the scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description of explanation about what might lie beneath all of this. But there’s not information right now to formulate policies in terms of addressing it over all, primarily because it’s a global issue.

No, “crazy” isn’t the word for it. The word is “craven.” Now that Huntsman smells what might be a real, if long-shot, chance at the nomination, as the last credible candidate not named Mitt or Newt, he’s trimming his opinions to fit the beliefs of the fringe element that now constitutes the Republican base.

That’s why there’s so little substance to discussions of how Romney or Gingrich would act as President. Either one would dance with who brung ‘im: the Foxoid Teahadi wingnuts and the Koch Brothers plutocrats.

Jefferson understood the dynamic at work here: ”Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct.” The peculiar rottenness now demanded of Republican Presidential candidates – of Republican candidates at every level – makes the partisan stakes in 2012 as high as they’ve ever been.

You want to see a “moderate Republican” in action? Take a look at Olympia Snowe, who (for example) today voted to trash the Gang of 14 treaty she signed, by refusing an up-or-down confirmation vote to a well-qualified mainstream nominee for the DC Circuit, as part of a long string of concessions to the lunatic fringe.

Footnote Yes, it’s possible to be even more despicable than Olympia Snow. For example, you could be Orrin Hatch, who claims to be against filibusters of judicial nominees. Today he voted “Present” on the cloture vote. But since cloture requires 60 affirmative votes, “Present” is functionally equivalent to “No.”

The lesson here – obvious since Bush v. Gore – is that Republicans will, as a matter of principle, lie, cheat, and steal to achieve their political objectives. The current drive to prevent voting in Democratic-leaning constituencies is only the most extreme version of that.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.