Will Jon Huntsman Get A Second Look, Or Even A First, From Conservatives?

Jon Huntsman's campaign has never really gotten off the ground. Will conservatives start taking him more seriously?

Over at PJ Media (the new name of Pajamas Media it would seem), Nichole Austin tells her fellow conservatives that they really ought to give the former Governor of Utah a look, because pretty much everything they think they know about him is wrong:

Despite scuttlebutt to the contrary, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman is not a Democrat in disguise, but was in fact a relatively ambitious conservative governor.  And if he is “moderate,” he is not appreciably more moderate than other leading candidates or party leaders. If one compares records honestly and looks at policy positions realistically, one will find that in many ways, Huntsman is more conservative than Mitt Romney — who will likely receive the Republican nomination. A surreal juxtaposition to be sure.

As governor of Utah, Huntsman ushered in a boldly transformed tax system. He flattened the tax code, doing away with many, though not all, deductions and credits, and changing six-brackets of progressive income tax rates into one low 5% rate. (Compare with Rick Perry’s proposed 20% flat income tax and Herman Cain’s emblematic 9%.)  According to PoliFact.com, this new system reduced taxes approximately 30% for the wealthiest residents, and due to remaining tax deductions “the effective tax rate [was] about 3 percent for Utah taxpayers earning $70,000 a year in 2008 and 4 percent for a household with $100,000 in taxable income[.]” He also eliminated the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, a credit Reagan supported and which many Republicans today label “socialist.”

Also according to PolitiFact, which simply crunched Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, Utah was fourth in the nation for job creation during the period immediately preceding and including the 2008-2009 recession, right behind Texas, which was third in the nation.


Of course, one other noteworthy item on Huntsman’s resume is that he pursued free market-based health care reform in Utah. The system primarily involved a competitive private health care exchange, diversified consumer options, and electronic medical records. Gregg Girvan of the Heritage Foundation praised it as a “blueprint” for state health care reform. Furthermore, the state did not impose a health insurance mandate on private citizens, although early on, Huntsman seemed to have favored a mandate, as did former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Both Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have endorsed insurance mandates of some kind and seem to think that they’re necessary features of a workable health care reform model. On a related note, like most other candidates, Huntsman also said he would repeal Obamacare.

Austin also goes on to note that Huntsman has been consistently pro-life, that he has backed Paul Ryan’s budget plan while other Republican candidates have distanced themselves from it, and that when he let office after eight years the Pew Center named Utah as the best managed state in the nation. He’s put forward a tax plan that has been praised by conservatives economists and The Wall Street Journal. To all of this I would add that Huntsman has a resume that is, arguably, more well-rounded than any other candidate in the field. In addition to the political experience of a Rick Perry, he’s got the business experience of Mitt Romney and Herman Cain, and he’s got direct experience in foreign policy that none of the candidates have.

So why has Huntsman been so roundly rejected by conservatives who have so far spent the campaign season jumping from Sarah Palin to Donald Trump to Herman Cain to Michele Bachmann to Rick Perry, back to Herman Cain, and now to Newt Gingrich?

Part of it, no doubt, is simply the fact that Huntsman was somewhat of an unknown when he entered the race. The Governor of Utah, and even the United States Ambassador to China, isn’t exactly a high profile media position. Additionally, unlike Perry, Hunstman was never associated with something like the Tea Party movement so he didn’t get the media and activist attention associated with that. Moreover, Huntsman’s campaign seemed to come out of nowhere. As his tenure in Beijing was winding down, the rumors of a Huntsman run for the Presidency started to leak out and a lot of people, myself included, said “who?” For a guy with the resume of what should be a first tier candidate, Huntsman started out, and basically still has, a third tier campaign that is basically going for broke in New Hampshire in the hope that a surprisingly strong showing there will lead to success elsewhere.  It’s something of a miracle, in fact, that Huntsman has managed to perform well enough in the polls to get invited to the debates because he could just as easily be in the same boat as Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer, both of whom have been effectively shut out of that venue by debate participating rules.

Huntsman’s other problem among conservatives seems to be that they think he’s some kind of liberal Republican to the left of Mitt Romney. Part of this seems to simply come from the fact that he accepted a job as U.S. Ambassador to China under President Obama. Huntsman has responded to that by saying that he was asked to serve his country by the President of the United States and he’s always believed that’s an offer you can’t turn down. It’s a perfectly reasonable response, actually. In accepting a position offered by a President of the opposing party, Hunstman was following in the footsteps of other American leaders, Republican and Democrat, who have done the same thing numerous times. After losing the 1940 election for example, Wendell Wilkie served as FDR’s personal representatives on trips to Europe in 1941, and the USSR and China in 1942. We saw other examples of this after World War Two, but now it seems like serving in the Administration of Barack Obama, even just as an Ambassador, has somehow disqualified Huntsman in the minds of some conservatives.

Austin points to another complaint you hear from conservatives about Huntsman:

[A] truly perplexing complaint against Huntsman is that he is a “left-wing media darling.” His favorable press in unusual precincts, such as Vogue and the New York Times (which recently speculated he has the best chance of beating Obama), is seen as evidence of his liberalness. Although this may be a “turn-off,” it is a vacuous one. Only Huntsman’s policies can be the true judge of his conservative bone fides; and the fact that liberal journalists and media staples are intrigued, and perhaps even like, Huntsman should be seen as an asset, not an albatross. To nominate a solid conservative whom liberals would actually consider voting for is something R epublicans should value in a candidate.

One can hardly blame Huntsman for accepting invitations to speak whenever he gets them considering the state of his campaign. I’m sure if the people over at Fox News Channel asked, he’d gladly appear there as well because, well, a campaign like his can use as much free publicity it can get. Yes, it’s true that Huntsman needs to talk to Republican voters in order to do well in the race for Republican nomination, but one can do that in venues other than FNC and the Rush Limbaugh show. Especially in states like New Hampshire, independent voters are as important in a primary battle as committed Republicans are, and if Huntsman succeeds in getting their attention he might actually be on to something.

Of course, you cannot blame the fact that conservatives are largely ignoring Huntsman just on them. His campaign has made what I would consider several key mistakes along the way that have needlessly reinforced the perception that many on the right had about him. On several ocassions, for example, Huntsman openly criticized Republicans who disagree with him about climate change and evolution. Now, I personally happen to think that the current conservative positions on these issues are needlessly anti-science to an alarming degree, so I tended to agree with Huntsman when he said those things. When you’re running for your party’s nomination, though, it doesn’t help you one bit to start criticizing the people who you want to vote for you that way. Just ask Rick Perry how well it went for him when he called people who opposed his support of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants “heartless.” It was, many believe, the beginning of the end of what had been a stratospheric rise on his part that seemed to put the nomination his grasp at one time. Similarly, Huntsman could have stated that position differently, and he could refrain from restating it so often in media appearances. It doesn’t do him any good.

If Huntsman is going to succeed, and it quite honestly isn’t very likely given how little time is left, he will need to give Republicans a reason to vote for him. That means getting across the message that he has far more in common with them than the seem to think. That will require changing the misconceptions that conservatives have, while at the same time emphasizing that resume I noted above. Tonight’s foreign policy debate might be one of those opportunities, because by all rights Huntsman ought to be able to wipe the floor with most of the people on the stage with him in South Carolina. Whether anyone will listen is another question, of course, but it’s really the only shot he has.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    In a word NO. He is intelligent and sane.

  2. sam says:

    Ron beat me to it.

  3. I agree with Doug’s premise. Huntsman sounds a lot more liberal (or anti-Republican base voter) than his actual record indicates. He’s a qualified candidate and hasn’t gone against conservative orthodoxy with actual signed legislation like Romney. If he would stop sounding like he’s running against Republicans it would definitely help. Another problem is he looks insincere. Not sure why, but he does. Have heard him on the radio a few times and he sounds way better if you aren’t looking at him (not a great sign).

    Tonight’s debate should help him, though his answers on China have lacked the detail and depth you might expect and often sound pandering.

    Here’s what I would like to see the moderators ask in the debate:


  4. anjin-san says:

    He can count to 20. In conservative circles, that disqualifies him…

  5. James Joyner says:

    Oddly, Erick Erickson has recent come out and argued that Republicans ought to start looking at Huntsman. Despite the fact that he was endorsed by many in the conservative Establishment in 2004, Romney is now somehow anathema to them. So, they’re continually looking for an alternative and all of them in this field save Huntsman have crashed or demonstrated that they’re creeps or idiots. Huntsman may be the only sane alternative to Romney in the race.

    Although, amusingly, I’ve argued for some time that the only two Republicans I could see myself voting for are Mormons. How that came to pass, I do not know.

  6. @James Joyner:

    Erickson walked that comment back a little in a second blog post but, yea, it was interesting that he would bring Huntsman up as a positive alternative to the other not-Romney’s. (By the way, Erick and the Not-Romney’s would be a cool name for a bad rock band).

    I find few plausible scenarios for a Huntsman breakthrough, but if the GOP manages to win the Presidency in 2012 I would hope that he’d be on the short list for a position in the Administration. Secretary of State perhaps? Hey, he’d be better then the guy I keep hearing some conservatives say they want at Foggy Bottom — John Bolton. If the GOP doesn’t win, perhaps 2016 will be a better year.

  7. Kylopod says:

    I think Huntsman’s role in the Obama Admin is the main reason he’s been consistently viewed as not a viable GOP candidate, but I think the main reason he won’t be able to break through that barrier is one thing nobody’s mentioned so far: he’s the only GOP candidate (other than Gary Johnson, perhaps) who hasn’t said anything certifiably deranged. That is the current GOP’s bread and butter, not a conservative voting record. Look no further than Donald Trump’s brief pseudo-candidacy for proof. You wouldn’t think a single-payer supporting, Democrat-bankrolling New Yorker would hold much appeal to Republican primary voters today, but as soon as he starts talking about the birth certificate, he shoots to the top of the polls. If Huntsman wants his time in the sun, he had better start yapping about the Kenyan Islamo-atheist or lost school grades or Democrat plantations, or else he’ll fade as quickly as his RINO hide dries out 😉

  8. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    In accepting a position offered by a President of the opposing party, Hunstman was following in the footsteps of other American leaders, Republican and Democratic, who have done the same thing numerous times.

    Fixed it for you.

  9. Charlie says:

    If the GOP do win the White House in 2012, I’d hope whoever wins taps Huntsman as secretary of state. Hell, if he wasn’t a mormon, he could work as a VP nomination to Romney.

  10. @Charlie:

    Romney is still the likely nominee, IMO. So, yea. a Huntsman pick would not work for him. Otherwise, he’d be perfect in that role.

  11. Ben Wolf says:

    Conservatism fades when it no longer has an opponent. In this case the left lost the battle for America and now we have two right of center parties. Under those conditions the only way “conservatism” can continue is to move ever further towards the right, thereby synthesizing new “left-wing” radicals to oppose. The President adopted a mid-90’s Republican health care plan, but the right keeps moving further out so as to label his plan “socialist”.

    Conservatives have gone insane because without an enemy to fight they have no identity and no purpose. What we’re seeing now is just the beginning.

  12. sam says:


    Hell, if he wasn’t a mormon, he could work as a VP nomination to Romney.

    Yeah, but if the election was really, really close (really close), I’m not sure how happy Republicans would be with President Romney and Vice-president Biden…

  13. sam says:

    Nebbermine, that was stupid…

  14. sam says:

    Had a brain fart and thought Mormon was a state.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Will Jon Huntsman Get A Second Look, Or Even A First, From Conservatives?


  16. Scott O. says:

    Doug are you blind? Just look at the picture. He’s flashing the secret Trilateral Commission hand sign at a One World Government forum. He may be the antichrist. WAKE UP SHEEPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  17. Rick Almeida says:

    @Scott O.:

    I think he’s just dancing to the Lil Wayne coming from his headphones.

  18. Eric Florack says:

    one will find that in many ways, Huntsman is more conservative than Mitt Romney

    Thats about as low a bar to jump as can exist.
    And that Beasley approves of him seals the deal. The answer, Doug, is “no”.

    A real conservative, we need. Huntsman doesn’t qualify.

  19. Ben Wolf says:

    @Eric Florack: Give me five criteria which defne a conservative.

  20. anjin-san says:

    @ Ben Wolf

    Don’t be too hard on bithead, he has loved and lost so many times this year…

  21. Anonne says:

    They won’t, because of his working for Obama. That’s probably a good thing; anyone that endorses the Ryan plan is an idiot. That is an instant disqualifier. It shows that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of basic arithmetic and economics, and are a coward that doesn’t really believe in fixing the deficit because that won’t happen under Ryan’s plan – both because the conditions for the Ryan plan to succeed are less likely to appear than unicorns, and because the Ryan plan doubles down on The Crazy™ to continue slashing taxes, exacerbating the revenue side of the deficit problem.

  22. ponce says:

    In this case the left lost the battle for America…

    Sure Ben,

    Nothing says wingnut dominance like gays openly serving in the military and socialized medicine.

    With seven weeks to Iowa, I think it’s a little late for Huntsman to surge.

  23. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    While I agree that conservatives should take another look, I don’t see the appeal. Huntsman is just another snake oil peddler. In this case, the bottle is nicer looking and the label says “Huile des Serpents.”

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    @ponce: If “gay is ok” and a giveaway to the insurance industry are the best the left can do, it lost. That might change in the future but it’s reality now. Corporatism, is the trademark of the right, and our political system is wholely dominated by it.

  25. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    You proved the conservatives point. If liberals believe that anyone is sane, what liberals really mean is that that person agrees with the liberal and can be easily manipulated by liberals.

    Anytime liberals use the word sane, sanity or being rational is the last thing that they are talking about.

  26. superdestroyer says:


    Huntsman supports open borders and unlimited immigration. There is nothing sane, rational, or non-deranged about supporting a policy that would raise taxes, increase pollution, increase sprawl, lower the quality of schools, increase crime, and lower the standard of living of middle class Americans.

    Huntsman, in his support of open borders and unlimited immigraiton, demonstrates that he cannot count, add, or project policies into the future.

  27. Ben Wolf says:

    @superdestroyer: Huntsman does not support “open borders and unlimited immigration”.

    This reminds me of an old study regarding extremists and their predilection for wildy misinterpreting and exaggerating the positions of people who don’t agree with them.


  28. Ben Wolf says:


    You proved the conservatives point. If liberals believe that anyone is sane, what liberals really mean is that that person agrees with the liberal and can be easily manipulated by liberals.

    Translation: A conservative is someone who disagrees with liberals. Always.

    This is exactly the argument I made earlier in the thread. Without radicalism to oppose conservatism ceases to exist, so SD and his fellow travellers have to continually redefine the enemy. To him if a liberal adopts a conservative position, that postion must be re-labelled liberal. The implications for just how far to the right they will eventually go are disturbing.

  29. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Liberals describe conservatives as insane at the same time that liberals claim that the U.S. can have the social welfare state of Sweden while maintaining open borders, unlimited immigraiton, and a ethnic based government benefits program.

    Believe that the U.S. can have unlimited immigration while shrinking the environmental footprint of the U.S. is the definition of insanity.

    Yet, few conservatives describe liberals as insane because the positions of liberals makes sense when one prioritizes the goals of liberals.

    It is odd that liberals continually use the term insane and extremist for the right but never for the OWS types.

  30. superdestroyer says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    When was the last time a liberal adopted a conservative positions? Was it Clinton with the reform of welfare and liberals still hate and would love to repeal. Compare what Clinton proposed with the idea of a guaranteed income, free healthcare, and free tuition for life.

    Conservatives have been massive failures in the U.S. who have accomplished little while liberals get whatever they want to include ever growing government, group guilt, group benefits,

  31. levotb says:

    @Ron Beasley: No. Huntsman is an Open Borders RINO. Conservatives want a law and order candidate which some thought Cain was till he went soft on Islamists and once his idiotic pro-big business tax scheme was torn apart.

  32. WR says:

    @Ben Wolf: Since Bit won’t reply, here are the 5 criteria that define a Florack-style conservative:

    1) Hates liberals.

    2) Hates gay.

    3) Hates minorities.

    4) Hates government spending.

    5) Lives on social security and medicare, but that’s completely different from 4.

  33. ForFiscalSanity says:

    The GOP “big tent” obviously isn’t big enough for different ideas. One year so-and-so is the second coming of Reagan, the savior who will lead conservatism back into the promised land. Then the next year when it turns out, well, maybe this candidate isn’t so bright. We probably shouldn’t have hedged all our bets on this guy.

    When the plan starts falling to pieces they get the under the bus treatment. Rush steals in during the dead of night and pours the hapless victim a nice pair of cement shoes and then drops them into the river. Malkin plays lookout while Coulter drives the getaway car, and O’Reilly coordinates from back at base.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m tired of Democrats. I would be just as happy to see Obummer go away as I would the Bachmanns and Perrys. I would love to have a candidate who actually sticks to the most immediate and important FISCAL issues, like the matter of high taxes, deficits, government spending, social security, welfare, ballooning military budgets…

    It seems to get nominated for the GOP now you must be as loud and in your face as possible about your faith and trump up your Jesus credentials as much as possible so everyone can whip out their religion and compare sizes.

    And this is where strong fiscal conservatives will always stumble. You cannot believe in less government intervention and simultaneously laud huge government programs and unnecessary legislation that seek to police people’s daily lives. This is what Orwell called Doublethink.

    Instead of discussing issues and looking at ideas on their relative merits they will hold dogmatically to a set of standards they’ve attributed to the misunderstood writings of dead men and then try to fit their worldview into that. If something turns out to be “wrong” next week then they’ll just shift the goalposts. Redefine conservative to meet the new truth. Redefine socialist to smear your enemies.

    You’ve got to pick your issues. Are you willing to compromise your compulsion to punish teh gayz or would you rather have a country tomorrow morning and stop worrying about what your neighbors are going to do in bed tonight? I want fiscal sanity. The rest can bicker about the other stuff later.