Steve Chapman

He hasn't had to spend a lot of time fighting off major parts of his record. The phrase he uses to describe Romney -- a "perfectly lubricated weather vane" -- doesn't apply to Huntsman.

He did, however, have the gall to say, "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming." He also has parted with GOP dogma on civil unions for gays and granting in-state college tuition to foreign-born children brought here illegally by their parents.

But those are mild deviations compared to, say, Romney's Obama-like health care program, Cain's wild incoherence on abortion or Newt Gingrich's sale of his soul to Freddie Mac.

More offensive to rabid Obama-haters is that Huntsman accepted when the president asked him to be ambassador to China. Never mind that firsthand acquaintance with our biggest creditor and most formidable potential military rival (he even speaks Mandarin) would be an asset in a president. Never mind that his service would appeal to independent voters who distrust fierce partisanship.

Never mind, either, that he has attacked Obama for his policy on Libya, which was "not in our core national security interest," and on Afghanistan, which he regards as "nation-building." Republicans wary of extravagant, open-ended foreign entanglements now have an alternative to Ron Paul.

And who else has had the nerve to say what should be obvious about our most questionable ally? "I'm here to tell you, folks," Huntsman declared at one event, "we can't do a damn thing about Pakistan. Only Pakistan can save Pakistan."

If Republicans are looking for the most conservative candidate, they won't settle on Huntsman. But if they are looking for the most conservative candidate who can beat Obama, he may yet get his day in the sun.

The process of elimination is on his side. New Hampshire political consultant Paul Collins, who is now working for the campaign, told The New York Times, "When I signed on, someone said to me, 'Oh, you've met Huntsman?' And I said, 'No. But I've met all the other guys.'"

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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