Jon Huntsman wants you to know he rides a dirt bike. On real dirt! He's Salt of the Earth. Grease of the Garage. Dragster on the Dunes. Huntsman's runnin' and gunnin' for president. But underneath the Steve McQueen costumery, this made-for-cable-TV Moderate Speed Racer is a creaky old John McCain on Wheels.
The former Utah Republican governor and Obama ambassador to China is the answer to an election-year problem that doesn't exist. The quadrennial "problem," in the minds of Beltway GOP strategists and liberal media chin-pullers, is that the Republican Party isn't moderate, civil, self-critical or inclusive enough.
Huntsman is the latest no-labels flavor of the month, a straw man of the same people who have spent the past year smearing entitlement reformers as senior citizen-killers, budget hawks as Hitler's spawn, border-security activists as racists, and leading GOP women as sluts, nuts and bimbos.
Just like the failed 2008 GOP contender whose consultants are now fueling the Huntsman bid, McCain 2.0 is a big-spending accommodationist more in tune with the Democratic elite than with the conservative rank-and-file. In the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on Tuesday, Huntsman assailed the current economic crisis overseen by the Obama administration as "totally unacceptable" and "totally un-American." Yet, Huntsman retains nothing but "respect" for his former boss in the White House and laments the loss of "civility" wrought by "corrosive" political debates.
This is all you need to know about the manufacturing of the Huntsman candidacy: Swooning reporters far outnumbered supporters at the kickoff in Liberty Park and at a follow-up rally in New Hampshire. CNN's enamored anchor Wolf Blitzer gushed: "Here's what I especially liked about Jon Huntsman's presidential announcement in front of the Statue of Liberty. He called for some civility in the race for the White House. Unlike several of the other Republican candidates, he did not open with a blistering assault on President Obama."
Yeah. Who do all those uncivil Republicans running against Obama think they are -- opposing the opposition with oppositional rhetoric? Heaven forfend.
Former McCain mastermind John Weaver, now a key Huntsman strategist, said this week the campaign will be "mellow." More like "marshmallow." Instead of trashing enemies by name, they'll keep it vague and mushy. Huntsman has been buoyed by months of glowing coverage from left-leaning, dead-tree media, whose reporters have lapped up his trashing of the GOP as "devoid of ideas" and "a very narrow party of angry people." See? No names. No nasty. Embrace the civility!
While politely paying lip service to principles of tea party fiscal restraint, Huntsman hopes no one remembers how 2,000 Utah tea party activists booed him in April 2009 so corrosively it could have stripped the paint off a fleet of Harleys.
Utah conservatives raised their voices at the seminal tea party rally against Huntsman for championing $1.6 billion in Obama stimulus funds (Huntsman wanted even more money than that) -- and against GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch and then-GOP Sen. Bob Bennett for backing the Bush-Obama TARP bailout. The grassroots message: "Send them home!" A year later, voters ousted Bennett from the GOP primary after four profligate terms in office. And Hatch is in for the fight of his entrenched incumbent life.
While state governments across the country are rejecting or repealing onerous cap-and-trade environmental regulations, Huntsman is a climate-change Republican who backed radical emissions limits and green job fantasies. Just like McCain 1.0 did.
While state governments across the country follow Arizona's immigration enforcement model and Washington repeatedly rejects mass amnesty programs in the face of 9 percent unemployment, Huntsman supports the costly DREAM Act, an illegal alien bailout with a wider "path to citizenship." Just like McCain 1.0 did.
While state governments rein in middle-class entitlement spending and Washington turns to means-testing, Huntsman turned the SCHIP government-funded health plan for low-income children into a universal health insurance mandate. McCain 1.0 was for SCHIP before he was against it.
McCain's Straight Talk Express ran out of gas when his former media paramours inevitably turned against him -- and his gambit to out-big government the Democrats blew up in his two faces. So it will be with McHuntsman and his campaign wheels to nowhere.