After all, who could preach more passionately on the dangers of fiscal recklessness than the U.S. ambassador to China? ~Newsweek
There are probably quite a few people. If there is one thing that is appealing about Huntsman, it is that it is difficult to imagine him preaching passionately about anything. Indeed, the rest of the article makes clear that this is not Huntsman’s style at all. For that matter, I can think of few people who would be less inclined to engage in crowd-pleasing China-bashing than Huntsman. China-bashing is what phony deficit hawks do instead of addressing our fiscal imbalances. Credible deficit hawks would not waste time or energy demagoguing foreign holding of U.S. debt (since most of our debt is not held by foreigners), but would make the necessary, unpopular observation that one cause of our fiscal imbalance is to be found in the American habit of wanting to defer responsibility and delay payment for present-day gratification. It is the American impulse to take on large amounts of public and private debt and our expectation that there will always be more credit available later that have helped create our current predicament. Complaining about being indebted to China is really just another way of avoiding responsibility and refusing to talk about the real problem.
The Newsweek article is a short profile of Huntsman, and it’s not bad as far as that goes, and to make it seem politically relevant it includes the inevitably silly 2012 speculation. The speculation is silly for all of the reasons Fallows mentions, but Fallows understates just how out-of-step Huntsman is with the rest of his party. For example, the article says:
Shortly after Obama was swept into office in a tidal wave of Democratic victories, the popular governor began articulating a new national vision for the GOP, one designed to appeal to all time zones. Warning that the party was losing young voters, he argued that Republicans would need to tack to the middle on three hot-button issues if they were to maintain national relevance: immigration, gay rights, and the environment.
What Huntsman means by tacking to “the middle” on immigration and environment is to take up positions that have been almost universally rejected within his party. On immigration, Huntsman is advocating moving away from a solid majority of the public, and there are hardly any voters who base their voting largely or primarily on environmental issues. This is not just a matter of a “moderate” being at odds with a more “conservative” party base. Relatively speaking, almost every Republican nominee has been much more “moderate” than the party base, so that would not be anything new. Huntsman’s case is different.
Huntsman has staked out positions that have little or no support anywhere in his party. Even most “reformist” conservative wonks are unsympathetic to liberalizing immigration policy, in part because they correctly see mass immigration of unskilled laborers as something that exacerbates social and economic inequality. It is bad policy as well as bad politics, but that never seems to stop corporate Republicans (which is ultimately what Huntsman is) from urging the adoption of bad policy in the vain hope of winning over voters that will never support them anyway. Because Huntsman was a very popular governor in a predominantly Republican state, there was almost no political risk involved in proposing these changes. On the national level, he would start with none of the advantages he had in Utah and significant liabilities.
When Huntsman was appointed ambassador, I had some complimentary things to say about him, and I haven’t changed my mind since I wrote that column, but if anything my assessment of his political fortunes in the Republican Party was too positive. Huntsman bet against the rising rejectionist mood in the party on the assumption that it would prove to be politically unsuccessful, and he seems to have lost that bet. If it made sense for him to drop out of the 2012 contention in 2009, it makes even more sense for him to stay out of it now.