Political Animal


May 19, 2011 9:55 AM Huntsman and ‘the M-word’

By Steve Benen

Jon Huntsman, the Obama administration’s former ambassador to China, kicks off a five-day campaign swing through New Hampshire today. He hasn’t officially launched his presidential bid yet — he intends to run as a Republican — but the Washington Post notes that he’ll be “testing whether his moderate brand of politics can find a place in today’s Republican Party.”

One of the interesting angles to this is watching Huntsman’s team insist that his moderate brand of politics is really just a mirage.

In a likely presidential bid, he would bring with him a political resume punctuated by his stint as President Obama’s ambassador to China and loaded with centrist positions on immigration, cap-and-trade climate legislation and gay rights.

That could be an uneasy fit in a GOP primary season that is already pushing candidates to the right. So much so that Huntsman’s aides reject the suggestion that he is a moderate — one called it the “M-word” — and describe the former Utah governor as a mainstream conservative with a solid record of antiabortion legislation and tax cuts.

The fact that a major Republican presidential campaign is actively concerned about the “M-word” is a sign of the times, in and of itself.

But Huntsman’s record is likely to prove tough to spin. He supported Obama’s stimulus package — indeed, he agreed with liberals who wanted it to be bigger — and put the money to good use in Utah; he endorsed the TARP bank bailout; he supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, he supported cap-and-trade and believes global warming is real; he’s described President Obama as a “remarkable leader,” and by some accounts, he even expressed support for the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans consider the worst law in American history.

Oh, and he’s spent the last two years as a member of the Obama administration.

First, I have a very hard time imagining how Republican primary voters could possibly support a presidential candidate with this background. Second, by 21st century standards, Huntsman practically defines “the M-word.”

Update: It looks like ThinkProgress was thinking along the same lines (but my post went up five minutes earlier!).

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • bignose on May 19, 2011 9:58 AM:

    10 years ago, Huntsman could have smiled his way to the presidency.

    These days, not so much.

  • zandru on May 19, 2011 10:01 AM:

    Republican Primary Voters

    Well, you have to kind of presume that most of them (the Republican primary voters) are barking mad, to assume that Huntsman doesn't have a chance. With the increasingly bizarre and extreme run of GOP presidential candidates, if Huntsman retains his sane positions instead of tea-baggin' it like all the other Republican sell-outs (Romney, Pawlenty, Jindal...), he could very well come up smelling like a rose.

    Frankly, I wish him well.

  • Neil B on May 19, 2011 10:08 AM:

    Interesting, supposedly independents are mostly "moderates" and that's the support a GOP candidate like Huntsman needs to get enough *votes* ... Oh, so maybe the real point is to signal the money-dishing powers that one is on their side, not to appeal to voters directly? In a nation like ours where voters are herded into image-driven shams fronted by corporate interests, the latter is what really drives strategy and elections ...

  • ManOutOfTime on May 19, 2011 10:11 AM:

    I have a hard time imagining why he's a Republican, based on his "moderate" positions. There must be something we don't know ... looking forward to watching him shilly-shally, shade, flip-flop, and otherwise squirm his way to the right. Don't worry! The MSM won't point it out. Then when he shifts back to the "center," the MSM won't point that out, either. It's the wonder of the Memory Hole!

    Speaking of "winning smiles," my Captcha for this comment is "this dentene." Ha.

  • Ron Byers on May 19, 2011 10:12 AM:

    Huntsman is the best the Republicans have. Too bad he is stuck with the modern Republican party.

  • John R AKA Mr. Serf Man on May 19, 2011 10:13 AM:

    The problem for them all is Iowa . In order to succeed there with the local mugwumps , you have to go to crazy town and then spend the rest of the campaign walking it back.
    Nice corner you painted yourselves into Republicans.
    # epic fail. 30% does not a majority make.

  • Anonymous on May 19, 2011 10:19 AM:

    @Ron Byers - "Too bad he is stuck with the modern Republican party" ... why is it too bad? First of all, he's not stuck; doesn't cost a dime to change your party affiliation. Secondly, the tragedy of the modern Repug party is the havoc it has wreaked on American society; the fact that a poor little billionaire's son might not be able to run for president should be the least of our worries. Thirdly, I don;t know that he is the best the Repugs have to offer - I suspect it's true, but I for one don;t know very much about him at all; he could be (and very likely is) John Edwards in a brownshirt. Fourthly, I hope he drops out before Iowa. America needs Obama II.

    And BTW, I was very relieved to see the "M-Word" in Steve's post was not "Mormon." I'm tired of talking about what one religious group may or may not think of another.

  • boffo on May 19, 2011 10:21 AM:

    Republicans' aversion to moderation is the most overlooked story in the dynamics of the unfolding Republican primary. The current emphasis is on who is entering the race and has the potential to be the eventual nominee; that is understandable.

    But ultimately, how much will it really matter who the nominee is? Republicans/Tea Partiers have shown time and time again that moderation is anathema for today's Republican Party.

    From taxes on the wealthy to Medicare, Medicaid & Social Security to healthcare to climate change to immigration to defense spending, etc., regardless of whom the nominee ultimately turns out to be, he or she will not espouse moderate positions that are consistent with the nation's mainstream. The Republican Party simply won't allow that -- at least not without fracturing and producing a Tea Party nominee.

  • chi res on May 19, 2011 10:28 AM:

    Neil B is right. The 30% crowd isn't sold on any particular policy; they're just the gullible mass who will believe almost anything that a good-looking, christianist, white person with enough money tells them. Look at how they ran to Trump.

    Huntsman's biggest problem is that he's not christianist enough. And unless he renounces the LSD, he probably can't be.

  • Grumpy on May 19, 2011 10:33 AM:

    Oh. I thought we were talking about the other "M-word," the one that will doom Huntsman in the South Carolina primary.

  • Eeyore on May 19, 2011 10:34 AM:

    Chi res:

    "Huntsman's biggest problem is that he's not christianist enough. And unless he renounces the LSD, he probably can't be."

    I presume you meant LDS? But this version does make me grin.

  • j on May 19, 2011 10:42 AM:

    Reading about Huntsman's policies and his positions, he sounds more like a democrat, I wonder how he will fare with the rethugs.

  • chi res on May 19, 2011 10:56 AM:

    I presume you meant LDS?

    oops. He really doesn't seem the type for lsd, does he? China is probably the best trip he's taken.

  • Hannah on May 19, 2011 11:32 AM:

    Oh! (Along with others) I immediately thought the M word was "Mormon".

    Huntsman will never win the Republican primaries if the base shows up. Which is a good thing because he might just appeal to independents.

  • Sasha on May 19, 2011 12:00 PM:

    Best theory Iíve heard is that Huntsman is putting himself out there now in order to get name recognition for a credible run in 2016.

    Assuming Obama wins in 2012 and has a well-regarded second term, this is a good bet. Biden almost certainly wonít run for president in 2016 and in a wide-open field, a not-crazy Republican whose service under Obama was deemed praiseworthy would be an appealing moderate candidate.

  • T-Rex on May 19, 2011 1:28 PM:

    Back in 1988, Alexander Cockburn gave a lecture in which he savaged the vile smear tactics of the recent Presidential campaign. During the campaign, G.H.W. Bush had repeatedly ridiculed Dukakis was repeatedly with references to "the L word," i.e., "liberal," which was supposedly too obscene to repeat in polite company. Cockburn predicted that "soon 'moderate' will be the 'm word,' and 'centrist' will become 'the c word,' until only fascists are left in the mainstream."

    At the time, Serious People, including writers for The New Republic, attacked Cockburn for his embarrassing, intemperate remarks. Any chance at all that they'll now give him credit for being right?

    P.S.: Your spam-guard is AWFUL! The last one you threw at me was totally illegible.