Simon Williamson

Where Jon Huntsman lost it

2012-01-17 14:22

Simon Williamson

On Monday, Republican presidential candidate and former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman, packed in his limp presidential campaign and backed the favourite to win the nomination, Mitt Romney.
 
Huntsman’s departure from the race wasn’t a massive surprise, as his appeal to the moderate or liberal wing of the Republican Party was tested thoroughly in a make-or-break primary in New Hampshire. Which broke. This particular state is less socially conservative than many of the other early primaries and Huntsman finished third, with a mere 17% of the vote there, behind Romney (who won nearly 40%) and libertarian Texas congressman Ron Paul (who won 23%). A pretty flaccid result.
 
Huntsman’s campaign, however, showed masses of potential. Although he ran Utah as a conservative, Huntsman’s views on social and environmental policy were fairly moderate: he believes in civil unions for homosexual couples, limiting carbon emissions, banning torture as a means of interrogation, permitting the children of illegal immigrants to in-state college tuition, science… and so on. But Huntsman also managed to combine these views with solid conservative principles, particularly relating to business – proof of which can be found in his governorship of Utah.
 
This combination saw Huntsman appealing to the same set of voters as Mitt Romney, but as I mentioned above, when it came to them both appealing to the majority of the state in New Hampshire, basically a home fixture for both of them, Romney wiped the floor with Huntsman.
 
On that note, one of Huntsman’s other bad decisions was to not clarify that he was actually a conservative. Results borne so far show that Romney merely changing his mind to all sorts of conservative positions has done him better than Huntsman who waited for people to examine his record. Which they didn’t. Huntsman does not support abortion rights, he does support the death penalty, he supports the right to bear arms (including assault weapons), he is all for cutting state and federal debt, and repealing the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (Obamacare).
 
Another of the former Utah governor’s biggest failings was his complete lack of effort in Iowa, the first state to begin the process of selecting the Republican presidential nominee, and focusing wholly on New Hampshire. If you remember, Mitt Romney won the most votes at the Iowa caucuses by eight piddly votes ahead of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, out of a total of 122,255 cast. Had Huntsman tried even the slightest in this state, he could have swung some of Romney voters his way, and killed off the former Massachusetts governor’s momentum going into New Hampshire, where virtually all of his investment lay. Instead, Romney finished top, the media obsessed over him, and he entered New Hampshire as the name on everyone’s lips.
 
Huntsman also hated negative campaigning. Twice during televised debates he was set up to take delicious swipes at Mitt Romney and failed to take the opportunity. As the campaign descended into a real bun fight, and candidates began trashing each other, certainly most notably out of the mouth of Newt Gingrich and his supporters, Huntsman tried to remain above it all. In fact, the only aggression he ever showed was a sharp response to Mitt Romney who accused him of being part of a Democrat administration when he served as ambassador to China, and therefore wavering in his support for the Republican Party: “He criticized me for – while he was out raising money – serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They're not asking who -- what political affiliation the president is. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first. And I think that's important to them.” That was the sole aggressive statement Huntsman ever made.
 
And in politics, trying to be the bigger man and remaining above it all is not always the most effective tactic.
 
But all hope is not lost: very few men (or women) win the party’s nod to run for president for the first time, but a post in the government, should Republicans win the election, would be a fine platform from which to run in 2016. And he’s obviously aiming for that with his endorsement of Romney.

Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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Read more on:    newt gingrich  |  simon williamson  |  mitt romney  |  us  |  us elections 2012
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