House Speaker John Boehner is whining about how President Barack Obama wants to annihilate the Republicans and discard them to the dustbin of history, and the Democrats are warning that the results of the 2012 presidential race were harbinger of things to come and that the GOP is destined to go the way of the Whig Party. But they should consider the following proposition: if former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had been nominated as the Republican presidential candidate last year, Barack Obama would not have delivered his second inaugural address last week (which suggests that Obama made a smart move by sending Huntsman to China as the U.S. ambassador).
Unlike Kevin Phillips I cannot recall how each of the districts in Oklahoma had voted in presidential elections in the last 100 hundred, but I am quite confident that unless it is discovered that Huntsman violated Edwin Edwards’s First Rule of Politics, there was a better-than-even chance that Huntsman would have won Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia, and under the best case scenario could have carried several states in New England, including Connecticut (and perhaps even Massachusetts), and on the West Coast, including Oregon.
And Huntsman would have won the race for the White House by running as a conservative committed to the principles of fiscal responsibility and prudent foreign policy, in contrast to an incumbent president with mediocre record of success in most policy areas.
The fact that Huntsman had been the Governor of Utah is by definition an indication that he is a conservative Republican. And he’s one who can also win the votes of independents and Democrats.
But then, one would ask, wasn’t that the political brand that former Governor Mitt Romney was supposed to sell in 2012?
The problem was that under the pressure of the ideologues in his party Romney failed in getting that marketing campaign going and instead let Obama and the Democrats design his political brand.
No less important, Romney may have the presidential look that would have gotten him hired to play the commander-in-chief for a movie in the 1980s. But he was too boring, too wooden, too uncool, and lacked that—je ne sais qoi? mean streak?—to play the president in a 2012 film. A former keyboard player in a rock band called “Wizard,” Huntsman could have given Obama a run for his money in the “coolness” department.
Bottom line: Huntsman would have won more independent voters, suburban and professional women, Hispanics and Asians, which was all Republicans needed to carry northern Virginia or Colorado. Case closed.
I am pointing all this out not because of my interest in Huntsman and his political career, but in response to the avalanche of op-eds and speeches about What Must Be Done about the GOP. Before you know, we’re going to have new think tanks, magazines and websites devoted entirely to “fixing the Republican Party.”
Well, it’s not nuclear physics. Yes, there are the demographic trends (which I discussed here and here and here) that require paying more attention to voters in the Northeast and the West Coast, to Asian American, young professionals, and women.
But overall, becoming Jon Huntsman’s Republican Party doesn’t require a Big Bang political-electoral revolution. Here are some simple ideas that can be packaged into five fortune cookies.
- The central focus on national debate in coming years would be on finding ways to fix (as opposed to abolish) the welfare state and readjusting U.S. strategy to the changing global balance of power. Republicans should understand that what Ayn Rand and John Bolton have to say about these issues is irrelevant and cannot be sold to the American people. Period.
- Not unlike George W. Bush, just be nicer to immigrants and especially to Hispanics and stop patronizing women.
- Come up with business-friendly proposals on climate change and practical ideas on guns, instead of in-your-face rhetoric.
- The “gay thing” is a done deal. So get over it and move on.
- And, yes, select an attractive presidential candidate.
Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.