Jon Huntsman just keeps picking up buzz, as Time magazine discusses The GOP’s Huntsman Test:
The first goal is to return the GOP back to pure conservative orthodoxy; this is the Tea Party mantra in a nutshell. The second is to defeat Barack Obama at all costs. I realize there are people who think that one naturally leads to the next. But there are more people–including most of the Republican Party establishment–who think that nominating a Tea Party hero/heroine will replicate Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell debacle on a national scale.
A Huntsman campaign might force Republican voters to decide between the two propositions. As Zeleny notes, his record is full of heresies–from gay rights to global warming to calling Barack Obama a “remarkable leader.” (You can also add conservative crankiness over his spending record as Utah governor to the list.) Jennifer Rubin thinks that Huntsman doesn’t even “pass the laugh test” with conservative voters, and that talk of his candidacy is a case of liberal-media wish fulfillment.
But some GOP strategists, including an adviser to a 2012 hopeful with whom I spoke today, aren’t so quick to write off Huntsman’s prospects. They recognize that many GOP voters are more interested in beating Obama than in cap-and-trade or even gay marriage. Those voters might support a candidate who can credibly promise to appeal to independent voters in a general election without being tarred as a totem of the increasingly unpopular Tea Party. It’s the same mentality that led Democratic voters in 2004–who also felt that their party had sold out its principles–to choose John Kerry over Howard Dean. (And don’t forget the independent New Hampshire voters who can cast ballots in that state’s semi-open primary, with no Democratic primary to draw away the left-leaners.)
Fiscal issues are the dominant concern of primary voters. But in the end selecting a candidate who will appeal to the center is how the GOP will win back the White House. Yet it is Huntsman who has the most impressive fiscal record among potential candidates and has centrist appeal. A Huntsman candidacy would effectively rob the left of any fear mongering tactics and force Obama to defend his policies -a rather tall order in my opinion.