Jon Huntsman: The G.O.P.'s New Voice of Moderation

Politico looks at the emergence of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as a leading moderate Republican: Largely under the radar of the national media and even ...
by | March 2, 2009
 

Politico looks at the emergence of Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman as a leading moderate Republican:

Largely under the radar of the national media and even out of sight of many in his own party, Huntsman, 48, is emerging as an articulate, unapologetic and unlikely spokesman for a new brand of Republicanism, one that seems out of vogue at a time when many in the GOP attribute their fall from power to a deviation from right-wing orthodoxy. 

Huntsman thinks the party's challenge is more profound, owing less to its excessive spending practices during the Bush era than to sweeping demographic and political changes that threaten to consign Republicans to a long-term minority status and confine their appeal to narrow sections of the country. 

The party needs to be more intellectually rigorous, and to compete for the votes of the young, the elites and minorities, he said in an interview with POLITICO. To do so, the GOP needs to tack toward the middle on environment, gay rights and immigration. And, yes, Ronald Reagan is to be admired - but as much for his oft-overlooked pragmatism as for his conservative principles.

Overall Politico's piece is spot on, but I do have one quibble: Huntsman isn't really an unlikely spokesman for Republican centrists, except in the most superficial way -- you wouldn't expect the governor of Utah to be a moderate.

Huntsman strikes me as a logical intellectual heir to Nelson Rockefeller. His father is one of the wealthiest men in Utah. He's an internationalist, fluent in Mandarin Chinese and having served as an ambassador to Singapore (he also has adopted daughters from China and India).

Huntsman More to the point, Huntsman's centrist streak isn't a new thing. Huntsman, perhaps the nation's most popular governor (although, at any given time, at least five governors seem to be claiming that title), hasn't faced much criticism as Utah's governor. But, when he has, just as often it's been from the right as the left.

Global warming skeptics were infuriated when Huntsman joined a climate change alliance with fellow Western governors. The legislature nearly stripped him of some of his powers as a result. Huntsman also only offered lukewarm support for a school voucher plan that conservatives supported. Voters rejected the idea.

More recently, he's made the moves that prompted Politico's piece -- supporting same-sex civil unions, criticizing Republican congressional leaders and accepting federal stimulus money. As a result, Huntsman has a clear role in any discussion of the future of the Republican Party. As a presidential candidate, however, he'll struggle to be anything more than his party's Joe Lieberman.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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