Political Animal


May 20, 2011 8:35 AM Political whiplash: Huntsman scrambles to the right

By Steve Benen

Jon Huntsman is no doubt aware of his predicament. He’s running for president, as a Republican, despite having been a member of the Obama administration. He also has to impress a far-right GOP base, despite taking center-left positions on a range of issues — climate, gays, immigration, economic stimulus, health care, the TARP bank bailout — important to his party.

What’s his solution? In effect, Huntsman has two choices. He can (a) run as a moderate statesman, hope centrist Republicans still exist, and watch the rest of the GOP field to knock each other out competing for the same right-wing votes; or (b) Huntsman can abandon his moderation and scurry to the right just as fast as he can.

As of this morning, Huntsman appears to prefer the latter.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America,” the former U.S. ambassador to China maintained a level-headed tone, but nevertheless moved sharply to the right on a range of domestic issues.

Stimulus: As Utah’s governor, Huntsman put stimulus money to good use and argued the Recovery Act should have been bigger. This morning, he distanced himself from this position, saying, “Let’s face it, every governor took it.” Huntsman added that a better stimulus would have been more “tax cuts.” (All available evidence suggests the tax cuts in the Recovery Act were the least effective form of economic stimulus.)

Health care: By some accounts, Huntsman expressed support for the Affordable Care Act. This morning, he said, “If I had a chance to repeal it, I would.”

House Republican budget plan: Asked about Paul Ryan’s radical agenda, Huntsman said, “I would’ve voted for it.”

Medicare: Asked specifically about his party’s plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme, Huntsman said he supports that, too, for debt-reduction reasons. (The GOP plan does not apply savings to the debt, but rather, uses them to pay for more tax cuts. Either Huntsman doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s not telling the truth.)

Debt limit: Huntsman endorsed House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) line and said the debt ceiling should only be raised after $2 trillion in cuts.

Cap and trade: Huntsman flip-flopped on this last week, but this morning, he didn’t change his position at all.

Huntsman: The circumstances change, like on cap and trade, for example. You know, today our focus — although we all care about the environment, today our number one priority’s the economy — and we should not be doing anything that stands in the way of economic growth. And that which is going to move us forward in terms of expanding our economic base and creating jobs, period. That’s not to say that all the while, you won’t have people who are creating and innovating new approaches to dealing with emissions. That’s going to continue.

Stephanopoulos: But back in 2008, November of 2008, the beginning of the emissions, you said that dealing with those emissions was either going to take cap and trade or a carbon tax. Is that still true?

Huntsman: And that was exactly what CEOs were saying, and that’s exactly what all the experts were saying, and that’s exactly what a whole lot of governors are saying at that point. The economy collapsed.

He apparently doesn’t realize that the climate crisis will continue regardless of economic conditions.

To his credit, Huntsman was less willing to flip on civil unions and immigration, but on everything else, Huntsman was moving to the right so quickly, I’m surprised it didn’t cause whiplash.

For that matter, his willingness to explicitly endorse the Ryan agenda — including Medicare privatization — would prove to be wildly problematic in the general election, should he get that far.

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.


Post a comment
  • c u n d gulag on May 20, 2011 8:36 AM:

    How are the knuckledraggins supporters supposed to tell the difference between all of these clowns if they all take the same Neanderthal positions?

  • Alli on May 20, 2011 8:38 AM:

    I knew it. I knew it all along. Everyone kept saying he was going to be a threat because he was going to be the sensible moderate. NOT. All these GOP candidates are cowards. Lying cowards. And anyone entering the race will accept these far right wing positions.

  • K in VA on May 20, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Maybe that Mormon underwear provides magical protection against whiplash?

  • DAY on May 20, 2011 8:50 AM:

    Ya can't go to the dance if ya ain't invited. And all the invite-ers are GuanoNutz.

    The reverse happened in the GENERAL election, when Walker was elected governor. He played the 'sane card', and it wasn't until he won did he peel off the mask and set out to end civilization as we know it.

  • max on May 20, 2011 8:54 AM:

    Huntsman the person is evaporating before our eyes as morphs into what one must become to be a GOP primary winner - a cartoon version of their former selves.

  • low-tech cyclist on May 20, 2011 9:12 AM:

    But...but the Villagers said he was Serious!

    Guess he seriously ran away, away,
    When wingnuts reared their ugly head,
    he seriously turned his tail and fled...

    what one must become to be a GOP primary winner - a cartoon version of their former selves.

    My guess is he'll end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. Bonedigger, bonedigger.

  • stevio on May 20, 2011 9:12 AM:

    What did you expect? This guy sees power within his grasp and is willing to grab it. However, what's to say that the reverse isn't true. Maybe Huntsman lied about his real political leanings to open up a potential ambassadorship from Obama who was trying his best to share his "wealth" with moderate GOPers?

    Either way the guy is creepy and as a result has a great chance of succeeding at whatever endeavor he chooses to lie about to obtain. Nauseating...

  • berttheclock on May 20, 2011 9:17 AM:

    Apparently, Mr Huntsman's spine collapsed the moment his secretary announced "Grover Norquist and the Tea Party are in your outer office".

  • Mark on May 20, 2011 9:18 AM:

    You know, it's conventional marketing wisdom that you try to differentiate yourself. That was Huntsman's clear opportunity by running now, even if it meant deferring on actually winning the nomination until 2016.

    Now, he's publicly embraced some pretty indefensible ideas, giving us video that can be replayed forevermore. And for no reason...he didn't need to take a vote on Medicare. He doesn't even have to articulate a plan today -- not at this stage. Self-inflicted injury.

    Aside from the politics, I just became a lot less impressed with his intellect.

  • tomb on May 20, 2011 9:43 AM:

    It seems to me that Huntsman - and all politicians - should always run to where their heart is, not where they perceive the votes are. A large majority of voters, including deeply conservative, respect politicians with convictions. They may not vote for them, but pandering - left or right - is a losing strategy. I think we saw examples of this in the past midterm elections.

  • g on May 20, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Hunstman= Romney Lite

  • Giggs on May 20, 2011 10:02 AM:

    Mr Beerbelly Beerbelly
    Get these mutts away from me
    You know I don't find this stuff amusing anymore

  • SW on May 20, 2011 10:03 AM:

    This is the inevitable end game when you follow a 'genius' like Karl Rove and decide that the best way towards electoral dominance is to act as though your base were the entire country. THis is you may notice the polar opposite of the national Democrat's strategy.

    Perhaps it is time that the consulting business wakes up to the fact that these formulas are for shit. That a party needs both an energetic motivated base and broad appeal. That is where statesmanship lies. Not gimmicks. Values with the end goal of governance.

    The Republicans are now in a position that no-one who is sufficiently crazy to appeal to their base, which constitutes roughly 28% of the population will ever be acceptable to the national electorate. This would appear to be a problem.

  • bob h on May 20, 2011 10:15 AM:

    These are just amusing sideshows prepratory to the main act- Romney vs. Obama fought out on the basis of skin reflectivity. When the dispiriting affair is over, we will all be ashamed to be American.

  • Keeping Track on May 20, 2011 10:17 AM:

    It's not that the climate crisis will continue regardless of economic conditions, the increasingly unpredictable climate is directly impacting the economies of many countries. Ask central Australia, central Texas, the Mississippi floodplain, New Orleans, etc., etc.. You can't HAVE an economy if your land surface is under water or dry as a bone.

  • Silver Owl on May 20, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Typical republican. A spineless gummy worm melting on the sidewalk in the summer sun. They always cave.

  • sparky on May 20, 2011 12:13 PM:

    Such a shame, really. What little I've read about Huntsman up to this point, he came across as pragmatic moderate who would have been a breath of fresh for the republican race. Moving to the right to pander to that 28% base is not wise move, especially since that base is slowly shrinking as the tea party idiots begin to realize that their medicare is in jeopardy. A wiser move would have to been to switch parties and wait for Obama to pick him for a running mate or cabinet position.

  • Michael on May 20, 2011 3:53 PM:

    No, bob, I'm not ashamed to be American, ...my positions haven't changed, I'm ashamed that THEY,are Americans.Americans will outlive the stench...as people wake up to the degradation and Neanderthalism which makes up the republican party.

  • catman306 on May 20, 2011 5:07 PM:

    If Huntsman comes out strong for the reduction of fossil fuels and for renewable energy production, he'll get my vote. Screw Obama.

  • Doug on May 20, 2011 6:46 PM:

    So, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 is going to get the nomination with what, 20-25%, of the NATIONAL vote? And that's AFTER running further to the right than Otto Von Bismark.
    Right now, tThe only thing Democrats have to fear in 2012 is complacency...

  • Tom Hickey on May 20, 2011 11:21 PM:

    Another suit.

  • Hmm. on May 25, 2011 10:00 PM:

    Huntsman the moderate would probably be the best chance for Republicans to defeat Obama. Huntsman is probably less of a RINO that Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon, and some other past presidents. Electability does matter. Huntsman should simply run the risk and ditch hewing to a single economic ideology. Principles are crucial on ethical issues. But on economic matters one should be flexible. Huntsman has the chance to win the nomination if he others divide other segments of the vote.

    If Huntsman commits to abiding by the constitution regarding war and discusses his views of the War Powers Act then that will be a huge benefit to his campaign. At least he might bring up these issues.


    Yes, that would be excellent. If Huntsman stands strong on moving towards new energy sources (avoiding pandering on false cures like ethanol) that would be great. It will take awhile to make the shift, but the benefits, environmental and economic, would be enormous.

  • Hmm. on May 25, 2011 10:03 PM:

    I meant to say, "Huntsman has a chance to win the nomination if he lets others divide other segments of the vote." In other words, if Huntsman can overtake Romney (who probably is the biggest threat in terms of winning moderate voters) then he might be able to win if the rest of the candidates split the non-moderate vote.