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November 21, 2011

The Case for Huntsman

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It's best to a leave a primary fight up to the members of a party. Unfortunately, sometimes a little outside prodding is needed to open some eyes.


The Republican primary season has so far been a confusing mess of rhetoric and personality. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is stuck in the 20-30% range, unable to catch fire with the bulk of the Republican electorate.


On a weekly or monthly basis, wandering GOP voters swing between Romney alternatives. It started with a fascination with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. As she launched a book tour, she flirted with the idea of a presidential run. Skeptics and the jaded might speculate that one was directly related to the other.


Then it was Donald Trump's turn. The real estate mogul played footsie with the media, but the relationship didn't get beyond first base. Then it was a "Pop Goes the Weasel" version of already announced Republican candidates.


One after another, names floated to the top only to fall again with both scrutiny and performance. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota Congressman Michelle Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and most recently, pizza chain CEO Herman Cain each took a turn at the top of the polls.


Through it all, Governor Romney has stuck it out at or near the top of every poll, consistently pulling numbers good enough to stay in the game, but not the type of numbers a winner would need. Republicans apparently do not want Mr. Romney, or they'd stop casting around for a better choice.


Sadly, one of the best possible choices has been in their midst all along.


Republicans, not always the quickest gang on the political uptake, are ignoring the White House insiders' most feared opponent.


No, it's not Newt Gingrich. The former speaker of The House of Representatives and idea man has as much political baggage as a Greyhound bus, albeit a bus to a destination no one really wants to travel.


The ideal candidate is Jon Meade Huntsman, Jr. The former governor of Utah, he seems like a total package GOP presidential candidate. A successful businessman, Governor Huntsman's experience came from his father's success. It's happened before; take Donald Trump (thanks to Fred Trump) and Mitt Romney (thanks to George Romney).


Governor Huntsman's most notable success comes from his tenure at the helm of Utah's state government. The Pew Center on the States termed Utah the best-managed state in the nation in 2008, citing Mr. Huntsman's focus on controlling the government, focusing on job creation policies and his balanced approach to state governance.


Re-elected with 77.7% of the vote in 2008, at times Mr. Huntsman's approval rating as governor exceeded 90%. That essentially means that even those who don't like him liked his leadership.


Texas Governor Perry likes to talk about how he was the jobs governor. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that between 2005 and 2009, Governor Huntsman's state, not Governor Perry's, was number one in the country in job growth. Texas, North Dakota and Wyoming led in job creation, but Utah finished a strong fourth in that statistical category as well.


Aside from dueling job numbers, Utah flourished under Governor Huntsman. Major tax cuts and spending reductions fueled the job growth, while spending increases on popular programs were fueled by fee increases but also from the expansion of existing business. The libertarian think tank, The Cato Institute, gave Mr. Huntsman an overall grade of "B" for his term as governor.


Governor Huntsman was not just a slash and burner, though. Utah's government grew, but regulations were reviewed and restructured to focus on the environment, education and job growth. Governor Huntsman led the push for the Parent's Choice in Education Act, the nation's most sweeping school voucher initiative.


He also expanded access to healthcare in Utah without instituting an insurance mandate, something both Governor Romney and former Speaker Gingrich have at various times advocated.


Mr. Huntsman's success in public service isn't restricted to Utah, either. He served as a staff assistant in the Reagan White House, deputy assistant secretary in the Department of Commerce and ambassador to Singapore (the youngest person ever to serve in that capacity) under President George H.W. Bush.


Finally, before leaving Washington to run for governor of Utah, Mr. Huntsman served as one of two deputy U.S trade representatives for President George W. Bush.


A logical question: Given this impressive personal and political resume, with such a preponderance of clearly pertinent past accomplishments, why is Governor Huntsman languishing at the bottom of an unimpressive field of GOP candidates?


Answer: In addition to the details above. Ambassador Huntsman also served as our nation's leading diplomat to the People's Republic of China.


Unfortunately, the appointment to serve our nation in this crucial capacity came from President Barack Obama. Short-sighted and myopic Republicans would have you believe this automatically disqualifies one from running for president as a member of the GOP. Disregard the fact that this guy is on a first name basis with our most challenging economic and military adversary, the idea that President Obama chose him makes him damaged goods.


Sheer stupidity.


This isn't Ambassador Huntsman's only political drawback, either. He has professed that man is at least partially responsible for global warming. If you're of the flat-earth conspiracy crowd, you can't acknowledge that humans play any role in global warming. Just ask Rush Limbaugh.


Mr. Huntsman also supports civil unions for gay couples, versus full marriage rights. Again, the die-hard social conservatives ignore the fact that most rational Americans have no problem with a legal acknowledgment of a gay couple’s right to be miserable just like straight couples!


He also believes that any solution to the illegal immigration problem for our western states will have to be comprehensive in nature. Ignore the fact that Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all held exactly the same position, now that we have the ultra-cons and Tea Partiers in control of the national Republican Party, moderation of any kind is evil.


You see, on most issues, Governor Huntsman's positions line up with the majority of Middle America's views.


Maybe that's why he's garnering such an astonishing lack of interest from Republicans this year. Maybe Republicans don't want a candidate who is in the same place ideologically as most of America.


In 2012, fiscal and social conservatives would prefer an unqualified, untested General Election candidate that professes allegiance to the purity of their message than risk aligning themselves with someone who is 90% their friend on issues while overwhelmingly qualified by every other objective measurement.


That could very well be why the Republican Party will ultimately hand President Obama a second term.


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