Huntsman is Running But Will Republicans Turn Their Backs To Him Like Lady Liberty?

Ronald Reagan announcing his presidential candidacy in 1980

Bookmark and Share   With the backside of the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop, Jon Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China and Governor of Utah went to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, New Jersey and became the eighth Republican to officially announce his candidacy for President. In 1980, Ronald Reagan appeared in the same location to announce his presidential candidacy. Yet the exact angle from which candidate Reagan kicked off his campaign was quite different from the angle that candidate Huntsman used to kick off his campaign. Having been born in Brooklyn, New York and eventually moving to New Jersey, I am keenly aware of the fact that the Statue of Liberty faces New York, while offering New Jersey a view of her backside. Ronald Reagan’s campaign took this into account. Jon Huntsman’s campaign did not. When Reagan announced his candidacy, his campaign staged the event in Liberty State Park in such a way that aowed you to see the side of Lady Liberty from her side. 31 years later, Huntsman chose the same location, but at an angle that placed Lady Liberty’s rump in our face.

That observation may be superficial, but it is a sign of a campaign that is not as interested in the details as they should be.

Huntsman announcing his candidacy with Lady Liberty's back to him

And it was also a bit symbolic of Huntsman’s campaign kickoff. At best, Huntsman’s campaign announcement could be described as flat and uninspiring. His delivery was monotone and his need to constantly read from his written text that laid atop the podium before him, added to a performance that was not only uninspiring, but so scripted and unemotional that there was an unmistakable sense of insincerity surrounding the entire launch of his presidential campaign.

The former Ambassador ran through the now obligatory recitation of how as Governor, he did not raise taxes and how well his state was prepared to handle the national economic downturn. He spoke of how we need not “hope”, but answers, and he mentioned how the next great generation of Americans are looking for the type of leadership that will allow them to rebuild America and restore her promise.

In his speech, Huntsman also stressed civility, the need to restore it in politics and promised that his campaign will take the high road. He even went so far as to state that he greatly respects all the Republican presidential candidates and President Obama as well. However, prior to that statement, Huntsman took a subtle swipe at frontrunner Mitt Romney. In what was an obvious attempt to point out Romney’s more than decade old conversion from a pro-choice position, to a right to-life position, Huntsman pointed out that he has been a lifelong right-to-lifer. He then proceeded to call himself the “ultimate conservative.”

Calling ones self “the ultimate conservative” may seem to be smart political strategy in a field of candidates that will each be trying to outdo the other when it comes to who can move furthest to the right but it can only work if it is true and can be received without much laughter. In Huntsman’s case though, being called the ultimate conservative sounds more sarcastic than honest. Fiscal conservatives will argue that after increasing his state’s budget by 10% every year he was office, he is not fiscally conservative. Social conservatives will argue that Huntsman’s pro-gay marriage position is far from socially conservative. And all conservatives will consider his support of Cap-and-Trade from as recently as two years ago is not at all conservative.

So Huntsman’s strategic self description may not really be very smart. It only makes him a vulnerable target in the battle to win the far right base. By making his ultimate conservatism a theme of his campaign, his actual lack of conservative credentials on several issues and the willingness of his seven Republican opponents to point them out, will simply undermine his candidacy

Huntsman still has the chance to make the case that his position on gay marriage is actually where true conservatives should be. If true conservatism represents equal civil rights and limited government that refuses to interject itself into our bedrooms, our personal lives, and our personal decisions, than perhaps Huntsman has a point. However, a presidential nomination process does not afford one the time necessary to make that case and to convincingly change generations of ingrained, ideological thinking and beliefs. Rightly or wrongly, in a presidential primary contest, one must play to their base, not try to retrain them.

Truth be told, Jon Huntsman is quite qualified to be both the Republican presidential nominee and President of the United States. A carefully crafted campaign can make the case that he is probably the one person running in either political Party, with the best foreign affairs knowledge and experience of them all. His experience as a U.S. Trade Representative and his experience as Ambassador to Singapore and China, give Huntsman unique insight in the burgeoning Asian markets that are critical to the U.S. economy. And his undeniable expertise when it comes to China puts him in the unique position of understanding that world power better than all others running for President. That experience could be quite helpful in delicate and important international affairs that involve dangerously disruptive rogue regimes such as North Korea and even Iran. And as a governor, Huntsman did much to create a pro-growth environment that allowed the people of Utah to drive their state’s economy in a way that outperformed most all other states.

But is that enough to win the Republican presidential nomination? Probably not.

In 2012, Republicans want an anti-establishment candidate. And while frontrunner Mitt Romney may not be that person, since his 2008 campaign for President, he has built for himself a national level of support from those who believe he gets it, that Huntsman still lacks. Between that and the enthusiastic but albeit limited support for the anti-establishment candidacies of Bachmann, Cain, and Paul, there is little chance for Huntsman to gain the type of traction that will allow him to truly compete with Mitt Romney. That is especially the case if Huntsman keeps on trying to sell himself as the “ultimate conservative”. And it will be even worse for Huntsman if Texas Governor Rick Perry enters the race.

In the final analysis, based upon the record and Huntsman’s lackluster campaign announcement, I do not see him as being the Republican that voters have been waiting for and I see little chance for him to prove otherwise. Ultimately, just like the Statue of Liberty in the background of Jon Huntsman’s campaign announcement, I think most Republicans will turn their backs on him.

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