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Huntsman’s Folly Revisited

Jon Huntsman’s campaign has been drowning, and today Dana Millbank throws him an anchor [1]:

It’s probably too late for Huntsman. His campaign is in debt and he’s getting 1 to 2 percent in national polls. But in New Hampshire, Huntsman has finally found a compelling message. He has shifted from his initial dubious theme — the need for civility — to the worthier goal of fighting for the political center [bold mine-DL].

Millbank may not realize it, but “fighting for the political center” is practically identical to the other dubious theme. The cult of centrism and the festishization of civility are closely linked, and in both cases they usually amount to endorsing whatever the Washington consensus happens to be. This message is not very compelling. Indeed, as Huntsman’s poor showing in polls suggests, it means nothing to most people.

Huntsman is most interesting and relevant when he breaks with the prevailing consensus, as he has on the question of withdrawing from Afghanistan, and he is most disappointing when he embraces it, as he has on Iran policy. Huntsman remains enough of a foreign policy “centrist” that he can [2] contemplate [3] starting a war [4] with Iran, but enough of one to be considered reliable by the Republicans who previously accepted or at least tolerated McCain. This is why a candidate whom Leon Hadar has correctly identified [5] as being in “the Republican tradition of a prudent foreign policy and a strong role in the global economy” can be so readily dismissed as a would-be McGovernite [6] without winning much support from the natural constituency of Republicans and conservatives who agree with him on many things.

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5 Comments To "Huntsman’s Folly Revisited"

#1 Comment By Fast Jimmy On October 19, 2011 @ 7:29 pm

Huntsman fails to distinguish himself in many meaningful ways, but I don’t believe that too much civility and cooperation is causing us a problem in Washington at this time. When you define ‘Washington Consensus’, are you speaking strictly of the GOP?

There are certainly two different versions of this consensus, as most democrats favor a nuanced, intelligent approach to Iran, or at least don’t have a problem with the one Obama has crafted.

I think a proper ‘centrist’ would be able to pick and choose from the best policies and ideals of both sides, while avoiding the rhetorical excesses, silliness, and name-calling that has characterized our current polarized mess. I would love to see a ‘cult’ devoted to this pragmatic approach.

#2 Comment By tbraton On October 20, 2011 @ 1:33 am

Fast Jimmy, I think you are giving the Democrats an unjustified free pass. As I like to point out,Senatorial candidate Barack Obama declared in an interview with the Chicago Tribune back on September 2004 that a missile attack on Iran might be necessary if economic sanctions proved unsuccessful in persuading Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program (which they are entitled to under the Non-Proliferation Treaty). (I would have posted a link, but I see that the link which had preserved the Tribune interview no longer works. Is Big Brother at work? Here’s the old link [7]) Democrats have been just as outspoken against evil Iran as the Republicans. Are you forgetting that Obama waged war with Libya without Congressional authorization and likewise sent 100 special forces to Africa? I fear what our Nobel Peace Prize winner is capable of doing if he feels it might help him avoid defeat in November 2012.

#3 Comment By tbraton On October 20, 2011 @ 9:21 am

“Huntsman is most interesting and relevant when he breaks with the prevailing consensus, as he has on the question of withdrawing from Afghanistan”

As I recall, less than a week after making his bold call for withdrawal from Afghanistan (alluding to a “civil war” if I am not mistaken), he added the caveat that the U.S. would have to keep 10 to 20,000 troops there (apparently to oversee the civil war). Thus, he stepped on his own line and muddied the message he was trying to convey. What puzzles me is why, with fellow Mormon Mitt Romney also running, he somehow concluded that there was some kind of opening for another Mormon from a small Mormon-dominated state in the West.

BTW columnist Frank Bruni made this comment in his Sunday column in the NY Times:
“For starters he proves the limits of the mainstream news media’s sway. He got a dazzling sunburst of attention at the outset, including a lengthy profile in this newspaper’s Sunday Magazine, and the pundits salivated and swooned. On the MSNBC news show “Morning Joe,” Mark Halperin told his rapt tablemates that he was “blown away” by an early Huntsman swing through New Hampshire. The messiah had come, and voters were instructed to worship him.”

The reason I mention this is that on Morning Joe last week Joe Scarborough tweaked Mark Halprin for his erroneous prediction that Sarah Palin would enter the 2012 race. He’s the leading politcal commentator and analyst for Time (as well as MSNBC), and that’s the best he can do? Yikes. I’ve been saying for more than a year that Palin probably wouldn’t run, and, like you, Daniel, I was skeptical of Huntsman’s from the beginnng.

#4 Comment By tbraton On October 20, 2011 @ 10:20 am

Daniel, this was something I posted on your blog during your vacation back in June re Jon Huntsman, Jr.’s plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan (a Google search proved unsuccessful):

tbraton, on June 18th, 2011 at 8:57 am Said:
Illustrative of the tightrope act required to secure the Republican nomination is the latest twist on Jon Huntsman’s approach to Afghanistan. After first sounding like he favored complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, he now says that we should keep “10,000 to 15,000 troops” there for an indefinite period of time. (“My hunch is the American people want to be out of there as quickly as we can get it done,” he said. But, he added: “You’re going to have to leave behind some presence, probably not 100,000 or 120,000 troops, but some presence.” [8] “Soon-to-announce presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and ambassador to China, suggested decreasing U.S. troop levels to “10,000 or 15,000? in Afghanistan.” [9] )

#5 Comment By tbraton On October 24, 2011 @ 10:32 am

According to the LA TImes, “Huntsman assails New Hampshire ex-Gov. Sununu for backing Romney” [10]:

“Insisting that he was the better conservative, Jon Huntsman on Monday lashed out at the former governor of New Hampshire for endorsing Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination.

Huntsman, who has put most of his political eggs in the New Hampshire basket, complained that former Gov. John Sununu’s endorsement ignores Romney’s history, including his record as governor of Massachusetts.

“When you look at his past statements, positions and voting record, the idea that Mitt Romney is a principled conservative is an impossible conclusion, Huntsman said. “It is more than his one term dealing with a liberal legislature; it’s a lifetime and record of inconsistent and liberal positions.

“One last thing I almost forgot to mention: while we both served President George H.W. Bush – you as chief of staff and me as ambassador to Singapore – Mitt Romney supported and voted for Democratic presidential candidate and potential Bush opponent Paul Tsongas,” Huntsman wrote to Sununu, still a Republican power.”

The reason I even mention that here is that I recently read a blog which made the preposterous assertion that Huntsman would wind up as Romney’s Secretary of Treasury or even Secretary of State should Romney become president. I haven’t encountered such tone deafness with regard to politics since certain people were seriously suggesting that Donald Trump was actually going to run for President last spring. All you had to do was read the NYTimes article about Jon Huntsman, Sr. of Sunday a week ago to realize that there is little love and much animosity between the Romneys and Huntsmans. That Romney would seriously consider rewarding a fellow Mormon seeking to take away Romney’s “prize” and to whom he would owe nothing with a high position in his adminstration is utterly preposterous.