Jon Huntsman for President?

Posted: Apr 06, 2009 5:39 PM you haven't noticed, the internets are already buzzing with speculation on the 2012 race for the GOP presidential primaries. Who will emerge from the fray? Will it be Sarah Palin? Is the second time a charm for Mitt Romney? What about a wild-card run by newly anointed conservative hero Judd Gregg?

... The possibilities are almost endless, but there are a few interesting names emerging from the debate - and one who seems to be getting a lot of unexpected chatter is Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.

He's popular, fresh, Western, loves progressive rock music, and he has great hair. His name was floated as a potential John McCain Veep in 2008 -- and McCain even recently named him as potential candidate for 2012.

Yeah, he might be from a relatively small (and very red) state, but at first glance he seems to have the political skills needed for the national scene. Plus, he seems to be an emerging favorite among more moderate -- I mean - "pragmatist" Republicans -- so he could potentially make an electability argument.

He's on the periphery of the field at the moment, but we're definitely going to be hearing about this guy -- especially considering that he's already buddying up to key figures in early primary states.

So, who is Jon Huntsman? What does he stand for? Can he win a primary and unite the Republican Party?

Personally, I'm not so sure he can. Both stylistically and substantively, I see a lot of red flags when it comes to crowning Huntsman a potential leader of the party. On the substance side, his positions are decidedly to the left of mainstream conservatism. While they may win him praise from the media and the left wing of the party that agrees with him, his positions are going to be a hard sell with the rank-and-file primary voters.

He supports civil unions for gay couples and a cap-and-trade strategy on climate change -- both of which don't go down easy with many Republicans -- but those things could be negotiable with some skilled parrying. What may give him a harder time are his strongly-stated positions on President Obama's "stimulus" package, as he was rather vocal about the fact that he planned on taking all of the money offered to his state.

This is not only a troubling position from an ideological standpoint, but it could make a presidential campaign much harder, as he may have to run against as many as three Governors who refused stimulus cash (Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Mark Sanford). After all, even assuming he could convince party regulars to look the other way on social issues, what are the odds he can get them to abandon fiscal conservatism, too?

Furthermore, Huntsman is one of the only elected officials whom I have heard openly suggesting that we pattern the GOP recovery after the British Conservative Party and it's leader, David Cameron. Now, I have written before on why I think Cameron is a genius -- but most US politicos mistakenly overlook Cameron's actual actions (and the fact that Britain is different than the U.S.) and use his name as code for "drag the party kicking and screaming to the left".

On the style side, he has some charisma and isn't a horrible speaker -- but I'm not sure he's anything to write home about. His biggest gig to date was probably his nominating speech for Sarah Palin last year's convention, and it was actually somewhat uncomfortable to watch. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt, as he sounded like he was coming down with a cold, but the speech was still awkward. Plus, he has a habit of flashing his puppy-dog-eyes during speeches (multiple times during the Palin speech). And while I like presidential candidates to inspire an emotional response, the one response you don't want to inspire is "Mommy, can we keep him?"

When it comes to strategy, Huntsman is in an even bigger pickle. On one hand, he will have to work hard to ensure that he doesn't become "the other Mormon guy" -- which is complicated by the fact that he not only has the exact same hairstyle as Mitt Romney, but shares his profile as a blue-blooded scion of a high-powered business family (his Father, Jon Huntsman, Sr. is the billionaire founder of The Huntsman Corporation, one of the largest chemical companies in the world).

He can't play the "fresh face" card if Bobby Jindal runs, nor can he take the "Western governor" mantle if Palin gets in the race. Actually, he could be forced to create a brand that is purposefully centrist, but he had better pray that Tim Pawlenty stays out of the race if he takes that route.

Huntsman could definitely win a lot of centrists to his cause, but I don't see a real opening for him. McCain may have been a moderate, but he had his national security credentials, a compelling biography, and a reputation as a "maverick" to lean on.

Huntsman, on the other hand, is not a "wild-card" or a "maverick" -- he's just a consistent voice of "why-can't-we-all-get-along" moderation. I personally would be unable to support him, and if the good people of Utah love him so much, I would prefer that they keep him. If the moderates want to put forward a viable contender for the GOP nomination in 2012, they will have to find a novel candidate who can inspire conservatives too (Judd Gregg?) -- not a traditional centrist politician like Huntsman.