Thursday, January 05, 2012

Mr Huntsman's Problem

I am a long time supporter of Jon Huntsman. My career in natural resources gave me reason to appreciate his refreshing work as governor of Utah, and while following his exploits as President Obama's Ambassador to China was a bit tougher, I was sure that with his steady hand and clear head, he would represent himself and his country well in the People's Republic.

Huntsman has for some time now been generally considered presidential timber by political pundits, despite the troubling fact that outside of Utah his name recognition has hovered in the single digits. Leaving Salt Lake City for an extended stay in Beijing certainly didn't seem the best way to ameliorate the name recognition problem, and indeed, some cynics believed that Obama named Huntsman as ambassador to China to eliminate the reelection threat Huntsman was widely assumed to pose in 2012. Whether or not you believe that Obama's pick for arguably one of the most important diplomatic positions in the foreign service was made strictly on political grounds, the fact remains that Huntsman accepted.

And alas, here it is 2012. Almost exactly a year ago Huntsman resigned his post as Ambassador to China to explore a presidential campaign against his old boss. In the intervening year, and now with the Iowa caucuses concluded and the New Hampshire primary staring us in the face, Huntsman remains woefully below 20% in most polls, behind the likes of such wingnuts as Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

The 2012 Republican presidential primary is admittedly hard to stomach. A host of candidates: a former Massachusetts governor who appears to be made from parafin wax, a Texas governor who apparently was the proud receipient of a full frontal lobotomy, a random Congresswoman from Minnesota, a guy who ran a pizza company, an adulterous former Speaker of the House, all kicking and screaming at one another fighting over footholes in the climb to see who can be the first to reach the stinky summit of a steaming pile of elephant dung. It is terribly unbecoming to think that this is how we choose our candidate for president in the year 2012. Weren't we supposed to be living like The Jetsons by now? I could have sworn that all these Apple products were supposed to make us all smarter; and yet, here we are with a Republican primary that dwells almost exclusively in the intellectual basement.

Save for Govenor Huntsman. In a primary that has become an echo chamber of conspiracy theories and just general weirdness, Jon Huntsman has been, well, quiet. The trouble with elections and candidates is that they are inevitably presented to the vast majority of voters through a media filter that doesn't necessarily pick up on competence. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the 24 hour news cycle is actually the perfect way to select a presidential candidate, although in a sort of reverse logic type of way. Whoever keeps out of the headlines and gets virtually zero news coverage, is likely to be the right guy or gal for the job.

But just because you haven't heard from Jon Huntsman, doesn't mean he isn't saying anything. The man has practically lived in New Hampshire for the last several months, and the more people hear from him, the more they like him. He has stolen a host of newspaper endorsements from neighbor state favorite Mitt Romney, including most recently the venerable Boston Globe, and has risen farther, faster, than any other candidate in the race.

Victory in New Hampshire remains a long shot. The donations have not materialized. Both votes and dollars in the GOP primary are bound up by the most committed of the partisans. Some think this is how politics is supposed to work, but when extremists come to dominate the Party machinery, that machinery spews out extremist candidates.

When Jon Huntsman was governor of Utah, the state was #1 in job growth according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Utah was named one of the "Top Three States to do Business" during his tenure, and according to the Pew Center for the States, Utah was the "best managed state in the country." He has twice been a US Ambassador, during the George H.W. Bush administration, he was named Ambassador to Singapore, in addition to his service in China under Barack Obama. He was also Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for the first President Bush, and served George W. Bush as a Deputy US Trade Representative. He is the former CEO of a multi-billion dollar chemical corporation who warned the GOP not to become the Party that rejected science and intellect. Huntsman said: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."

Crazy indeed; but unfortunately, not crazy enough.


Eastern Shore Outdoors said...

Huntsman strikes me as a solid, smart statesman. He reminds of those who built this country. They made their fortune then came into public office to help others, rather then use their office for gain...Good post..Phil

Steve Kline said...

Thanks for the compliment Phil. I agree with you that Huntsman harkens back to a different generation, where we could actually call our leaders 'statesmen.' I am not comfortable calling very many of our elected leaders by that term these days. Hope the hunting has been good.

Meg McKinnon said...

Steve--really enjoyed this post. I'm late to the conversation, but I too wish Huntsman had fared better in New Hampshire.