What’s Jon Huntsman Jr. to do?
While the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China seems to be roundly liked by many on both the left and right, his poll numbers suggest that he has little, if any, chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board boldly supported Huntsman’s economic growth plan early in the primary season, calling it “as impressive as any to date in the GOP Presidential field, and certainly better than what we’ve seen from the front-runners.”
In November, the New York Times Magazine also threw its hat into the ring, selecting Huntsman as the most likely candidate to defeat President Barack Obama in a general election head-to-head.
Despite the hotly contested fight between former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry over whose state created more jobs during their respective tenures in office, it was Huntsman’s state that got the nod from Forbes magazine, which chose Utah as the “best state in the nation for business.”
“Utah’s economy has expanded 3.5% annually over the past five years, faster than any other state except North Dakota,” Forbes noted.
Even Haley Barbour, arguably one of the most conservative governors in the, has come to Huntsman’s defense when critics, such as radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, have charged him with not being conservative enough. “Jon Huntsman and I served together,” Barbour said, “and while we don’t agree on some issues, there’s no question that he’s a conservative.”
So why does Huntsman remain largely ignored by the conservative base?
Huntsman, quite frankly, is far too reasonable a candidate in a party that has ostensibly abandoned all reason. Indeed, in a party where Newt Gingrich’s propensity for self-aggrandizement appears to know no limits and Mitt Romney seems willing to say anything and everything to win votes, Huntsman’s voice isn’t being silenced for lack of substance—as the WSJ and NYTM endorsement attest—it’s being drowned out due to a purposeful lack of hyperbole.
Like President Obama, who in 2008 tended to shy away from discussing the presidential election in terms of his being potentially the first African American to be elected president, Huntsman isn’t one to overzealously toot his own horn.
While Gingrich has lauded himself for helping to “defeat communism” and Romney and Perry have each accused the other of being dubious about their job creation records in Massachusetts and Texas respectively, Huntsman has stayed out of it. Though Gingrich has actively sought to position himself as the adult among a group of cantankerous children, it’s Huntsman that has largely risen above the fray.
But that might not be enough to win over a GOP base that appears to hunger more for showmanship than substance.
Former New Jersey governor and Huntsman supporter Christine Todd Whitman may have summed up the Huntsman’s paradox best in a recent interview with POLITICO where she called on the candidate to abandon his bid for the Republican nomination and run as a third-party candidate.
“The problem that we have today is that small base of very active political partisans on both sides that control the process,” Whitman said. Republicans, she added “feel like they have to placate or appeal to a more and more narrow base in order to get the nomination. The American people as a whole are not extreme.”
Neither is Huntsman, which doesn’t bode well for his chances in 2012.