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Can Jon Huntsman Revive the Party of Reagan?

Despite skepticism from conservatives that Jon Huntsman is a squishy moderate, former NSC communications director and Condi Rice speechwriter Elise Jordan sees in him someone who can appeal to conservatives and independents alike.

Huntsman outlined a vision for America’s engagement with the world that would mark a major shift from what we’ve seen over the past decade. He would reorder our priorities away from the War on Terror and toward international trade and economic policy. “One of the great voids in our foreign policy today is that we aren’t doing free-trade agreements,” he told me in an interview. “We are known for our commitment to liberty, democracy, and free trade. Open markets. That light isn’t shining right now.” More to the point: “The future of the United States is not going to be determined by firefights on the Hindu Kush,” Huntsman said.

Not since George H. W. Bush has a Republican presidential candidate had such hands-on experience in international relations. Like the 41st president, Huntsman is a veteran Asia hand, having served most recently as ambassador to China. His informal policy advisers include former H. W. Bush national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft. Huntsman started his career under Ronald Reagan, landing his first job as a staff assistant at the White House. He’s lived overseas four times, speaks fluent Mandarin, and has served as a U.S. trade representative and an ambassador to Singapore. He blends the experience of Bush with what he calls the “bold, confident, internationalist” policy of Reagan. He’s a self-described foreign-policy “realist,” but these views are buoyed by a “Reagan-esque optimistic view” of the world.

He continues that Reagan-Elder Bush approach in domestic politics, too.

Huntsman is the only Republican candidate to endorse Speaker John Boehner’s debt-ceiling plan despite its perceived unpopularity among conservatives — a sign that just because he’s running for president doesn’t mean he’s going to start to pander. He thinks the best way to have leverage abroad is to ensure a strong economy at home — to “get our house in order,” as he puts it — and so raising the debt ceiling is a necessity.

While this is the sort of Republicanism that I grew up with and which drew me into the party, it’s not exactly fashionable with the base at the moment. But Jordan thinks it could be.

Tea partiers, like so many other Americans, are fed up with the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Huntsman has made it clear he’s ready to wind it down, leaving behind only a nimble and aggressive counterterrorism force. Although the Pentagon and the commanders on the ground are still pressing to keep as many nation-building troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, Huntsman said he’ll trust his own instincts. (Unlike frontrunner Mitt Romney, who said he’ll do what the generals tell him to do.) “I’ve been engaged in that part of the world for many years, and I lived next door for the last two years,” he said. “We’ve already had wins for the United States [in Afghanistan]. We can’t wish for stability more than they want it.” And though he’s been portrayed as too moderate for the Republican base, he has a consistent pro-life record, is a big Second Amendment supporter, and enacted the largest tax cuts in Utah’s history.

Indeed, the notion that someone could be elected twice as governor of Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the union, and be some sort of closet liberal is baffling. Then again, Ronald Reagan made many compromises that would render him a RINO in today’s climate.

Still, while I like what I’m seeing in Huntsman, he’s not yet a significant candidate. Indeed, he’s no longer even showing up in the RealClearPolitics numbers while non-candidates Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani all register in the double digits.

Then again, it’s pretty clear that Republican voters aren’t exactly in love with Mitt Romney. He remains the presumptive favorite for the nomination but couldn’t even beat a lackluster John McCain last cycle.

While the Herman Cain bubble seems to have burst, Perry, Palin, and Giuliani are all getting significant interest because the nominating electorate is looking for someone to excite them. It’s probably not going to be Newt Gingrich or Tim Pawlenty. And I believe Michele Bachmann tops out around 15 percent. Perry’s path to the nomination is the most plausible of the  others.

Huntsman represents an interesting alternative–a conservatism of a style that put together three consecutive national Electoral College landslides in my lifetime. I’d like to think that it could come back into vogue and, for example, once again put California into play for Republicans. But it’s just wishful musing at this point.

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. the notion that someone could be elected twice as governor of Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the union, and be some sort of closet liberal is baffling.

    No joke.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. michael reynolds says:

    The idea that the cool, smart, experienced Huntsman would appeal to the Tea Party is very funny.

    No.

    For them reason is treason.

    Never happen. They crave the crazy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    But it’s just wishful musing at this point.

    says it all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. Davebo says:

    The “reasonable” conservative blog runs Ann Coulter ads.

    Say no more.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  5. Ernieyeball says:

    I know nothing about the economics of political blogs but don’t true capitalists take advertising money from anyone?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. ponce says:

    The question isn’t what kind of Republican you want on the ballot…it’s what kind of Republican are you willing to vote for?

    How low will you go?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  7. Fiona says:

    the notion that someone could be elected twice as governor of Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the union, and be some sort of closet liberal is baffling.

    So is the notion that Obama is a socialist or communist, but in the Faux News universe we now inhabit, up has become down. Huntsman seems far too sane and far too unwilling to pander to gain any traction with the wingnut Republican base. Plus, he’s tainted by agreeing to be Obama’s ambassador to China.

    Maybe by 2016, Huntsman will be viable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  8. James Joyner says:

    @Davebo: The ads on the site are either auto-generated or, in this case, essentially automated. I’ve run BlogAds from PETA and George Soros; I’m not proud.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  9. James Joyner says:

    @ponce: As of now, Huntsman is my preferred candidate but one I consider an extremely unlikely nominee. My guess is that the party will nominate Romney and that I will vote for him. I’d likely vote for Pawlenty if he somehow got nominated.

    I won’t vote for Bachmann, Palin, or Santorum but don’t think they’re plausible nominees, either.

    Perry is a wild card. There are red flags but I haven’t paid all that much attention, either.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. jan says:

    Huntsman is getting no traction anywhere but in the media. He is their preferred candidate.

    I won’t vote for Bachmann, Palin, or Santorum but don’t think they’re plausible nominees, either.

    I think the above people are also non-starters — too polarizing.

    Romney and Perry appear to be #1 & #2 in voter preference. But, I can’t say that there are any dynamic candidates in the republicans 1st or 2nd string, either committed or sitting on the sidelines.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. Ernieyeball says:

    “…the media…” incudes The New York Times, Brush Lintoff, The Metropolis Planet http://www.metropolisplanet.com/ and anyone with access to the internet. With support like that he will win by a landslide!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. WR says:

    @James Joyner: Red flags? You mean like executing an innocent man and then covering it up? Read all about it here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameron_Todd_Willingham

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  13. Ernieyeball says:

    When I click “Manage your subscriptions.” the New Nixon Tapes post of Dec. 11, 2010 is at the top of my list. What say you all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. ponce says:

    As of now, Huntsman is my preferred candidate but one I consider an extremely unlikely nominee. .

    If I were still a Republican…I’d be very leery about voting for the son of a billionaire.

    I liked the bootstrap kinda candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  15. superdestroyer says:

    Reagan, like Huntsman, supported open borders and unlimited immigration. Now California is lost to Republicans forever and eventually other states like Texas, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona will be lost to Republicans.

    Reagan, like Huntsman, liked the idea of deficit spending and postponing hard choices.

    Huntsman would just be the next GW Bush. An open border, big government compassionate conseravtive who would let liberal lead him around by the nose.

    The only people who are excited about Huntsman are liberal Democrats who want another Republican fool who will continue to make stupid decisions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  16. An Interested Party says:

    The only people who are excited about Huntsman are liberal Democrats…

    Actually, liberal Democrats are probably much more excited by Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry, because if any of these particular people became the GOP presidential candidate, Democratic control of the White House would continue…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. superdestroyer says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Liberals like “Republicans” like Huntsman because even if Huntsman won, liberals would still get everything they want to include higher taxes, more spending, more entitlements, a bigger nanny state, an expanded underclass, and a smaller middle class.

    Huntsman should be running in the Democratic Primary since he is closer to a Democrat in policy than any conservative.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. LaurenceB says:

    I was an Obama supporter in 2008, but after Obama’s dismal performance standing up to the GOP craziness on the debt ceiling, and given Huntsman’s relative saneness, I would probably pick Huntsman over Obama if that was the choice. So, I guess I’m the target independent demographic that Jordan imagines.

    The problem, of course, is that Huntsman won’t be able to get past the GOP base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. sam says:

    Can Jon Huntsman Revive the Party of Reagan?

    That dog won’t Huntsman.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0