Huntsman the Moderate?
By Taylor Marvin
Ezra Klein challenges the media narrative of Huntsman the moderate:
“Huntsman’s weak finish led many to suggest that the GOP was no place for moderates. But the truth is that Huntsman’s campaign didn’t prove that, or anything like it. For all Huntsman’s signaling and hinting, his policy platform is no more moderate than Romney’s. In fact, it might be less moderate.”
This criticism is on the mark — Huntsman’s record as governor is actually solidly conservative, certainly more than Romney’s. But Kevin Drum has an interesting take suggesting that Huntsman’s personality would lead him to govern as a moderate conservative:
“And yet, it’s not entirely baseless. Policy isn’t the only thing that matters, after all, and I’d argue that Huntsman quite likely is moderate in two important ways. The first is the one that lots of people have already pointed out: he doesn’t spend all his time making apocalyptic statements about Barack Obama being the anti-Christ and Democrats leading the United States into penury and decline. He says he believes in evolution and global warming rather than claiming these are vast conspiracies of the scientific community. This kind of thing matters.
But there’s something else that matters even more, and that’s the second way in which Huntsman is genuinely moderate. This is, granted, supposition on my part, but I suspect that Huntsman is more willing to compromise than most of the other candidates. He might want to cut the capital gains rate to zero, but if he could strike a deal with Democrats for a useful bit of tax reform that didn’t include a cap gains cut, I think he’d probably do it.”
Interesting, but I’m not convinced Huntsman would govern any more moderately than frontrunner Romney. Huntsman was only willing to publicly break with the Republican orthodoxy because it came with no cost — he was never going to win the Republican nomination anyway, so positioning himself as a moderate on science issues guaranteed him media sympathy at the cost of primary voters he never had anyway. If Huntsman ever was a plausible nominee, or had enjoyed the prospects of a surge anywhere besides New Hampshire, I’m confident that he would have quickly swung to the right. Huntsman’s actual governing doesn’t suggest that he’s anything but a social conservative, and he probably would have governed as one. Admirable defenses of serving his country in China aside, Huntsman’s actual policy rhetoric in Sunday’s debate was less than moderate, especially his enthusiastic defense of the Ryan budget plan. It’s important to also remember that Huntsman debate performance was targeted to New Hampshire primary voters, who tend to be much less conservative than the nationwide republican base. If he was a serious contender in any other markets he’d likely temper moderate rhetoric even more.
Jon Huntsman is an admirable man and would certainly be more open to political compromise than a President Santorum or Gingrich, but I don’t see him as actually governing any more moderately than Romney would be likely to. In office Huntsman would be beholden to the same conservative base as any Republican president — few presidents win reelection by appealing to independents at the expense of their party base — and personal openness to compromise aside, he would face the same conservative electoral pressures as a Romney presidency would.