Dear Fellow Conservatives,
By way of introduction, let’s flash back to the 2008 election. The earliest Republican debate was a May, 2007 joust at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. Each of the 10 candidates that took the stage that evening had their eyes firmly gazed upon the label of “heir apparent” to Ronald Reagan’s legacy: the former President’s name was mentioned an astounding 31 times. As the name-dropping proceeded throughout the night, the desire to claim the Reagan mantle became akin to repeated attempts to pull Excalibur from the stone. Ultimately, none of those candidates were successful in putting that historical legacy on their shoulders that evening – or any other. Because…it takes more than references in a debate: it takes a record to run on, the rhetoric to persuade people, and the leadership to lead them there. Flash forward to 2012, and we have a candidate that may very well be the one to carry that mantle. Jon Huntsman, Jr., who is mostly still an afterthought in the long laundry list of Republican candidates, possesses every attribute to become the current generation’s great conservative leader: he has vital foreign credentials throughout Asia and specifically in China; has expertise in free trade; has logged years of service in the private sector; and, his ace in the hole, 5 highly-successful years running the state of Utah.
When drawing a comparison to Reagan, the two men aren’t exactly the same. Reagan’s style was folksy where Huntsman is metered, populist where Huntsman is diplomatic. The similarity arises in being able to persuade audiences and voters with a passionate fiscal and social conservative message that is elaborated and well-argued. If you watch “A Time for Choosing” today, Reagan’s landmark 1964 speech that launched his political career, you find it is just as relevant then as it is now. It is this convergence of circumstance and challenge, Reagan in 1964 and Huntsman in 2011, that strike the same resonant chord in how to fix this country: create a job-friendly tax and regulatory environment to GROW our way out of the recession, while maintaining fiscal discipline. The man and the message match. And they should. The times call for it. As with Reagan’s eventual and successful run in 1980, we again face a Democratic incumbent with an economy that is clearly off the track (this time the extra boogeyman in the room isn’t inflation, but instead an accelerating Federal deficit). This country needs a strong, experienced leader. We do not need an idealist with vague messaging, broken promises, and negative results; we need a pragmatist with a proven resume of job-creation & fiscal discipline and a plan to implement the changes that are needed. From my examination of the field, I’ve found him. Admittedly, most people have no idea who Jon Huntsman is, and more troubling is that some people have a completely wrong impression. Over the next few months, that will change dramatically across the country. And over these few minutes that you’re granting me, I hope it will change for you as well.
Put simply, Jon Huntsman’s best accomplishment is the creation of a growth-friendly environment in Utah. Under his tenure, the Gross State Product (GSP) of Utah grew by 40%, compared to 20% GDP for the United States as a whole. Comparing it to other states isn’t particularly fair, you’d almost have to compare it to a company (it’s better than GE’s 27% and just shy of Wal-Mart’s 42%). How was this done? Huntsman attracted company headquarters, energy producers, technological innovators, academics, and new factories into the state by serving up a free-market salad of tax incentives, positive regulatory environment, and relentless salesmanship. In concert with that, the tourism numbers skyrocketed in Utah as Huntsman took a hands-on approach with the appointees (ensuring there weren’t inefficiencies due to the bureaucracy) and the policy (relaxing the alcohol laws). The economy in Utah boomed during Huntsman’s tenure.
The net result of this boom? During the 5 years that Huntsman helmed Utah, the number of people employed in the state increased by the largest percentage in the country: 6.0% growth. In second, Texas grew by 4.9%. Over that same time period, the total employment in the US fell, to the tune of -.4%. On the tax front, Huntsman enacted the largest tax cut in the state’s history. The state was still able to maintain fiscal discipline, garnering a high-ranked B grade from the Heritage Foundation and a AAA bond-rating even amongst the flood of states facing budget crises. On the stimulus front, Huntsman accepted money from the Federal government, much to the dismay of some conservatives. They dismayed needlessly, because like an efficient CEO, the money was diverted towards efficient ends. It didn’t go to entitlement programs, but rather to infrastructure improvements within the state, which in turn helps to attract new businesses and jobs. Large chunks also went towards free-market programs, including a $33 million grant to USTAR, a business shoot-off of the University of Utah that takes university research and incubates new companies. On a related note, Huntsman was keen on ensuring Utah’s success well into the future and made it a priority to attract top professors and academics into the state’s university systems to ensure there wouldn’t be a ‘brain drain’ in the generations to come. Taken all together, it is no surprise that Forbes listed Utah as the #1 state for business in the United States in its 2010 issue, that Pew placed it amongst the trio of best-managed states in the country under Huntsman’s tenure, and that the American Legislative Exchange Council placed Utah at the top of its list for economic outlook in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Huntsman’s management of Utah’s economy was beyond adept; it is the most impressive of any candidate in the field, and it is not close. And isn’t this what we need in the White House?
As far as non-economic issues are concerned, the resume does not become less impressive. The one sour note is his support of a Cap and Trade system within the western states, but Jon has now distanced himself & given his mea culpa. I imagine this is a forgivable transgression. Beyond that, the record is a goldmine of conservatism. He passed three of the most pro-life bills in the country during his tenure, including setting aside money in the eventuality that Roe v Wade is overturned, virtually assuring him a top-ranked grade from the National Right to Life Committee. On healthcare, Utah’s exchange is continuing to ramp up and will become the free market blueprint when crafting the replacement for Obamneycare. On education, he supported and worked toward the expansion of school choice. He also put his unique fingerprint on the state: by the time Jon left office, there were 4,000 elementary school kids in Utah’s schools that were learning the foreign language of Mandarin (a language sure to be in demand in the 21st century), the most of any state in the country. On immigration, he supports immediate border security and then an examination for immigrants already in the country. On the 2nd Amendment, Huntsman will again be the preeminent conservative in the field, having passed significant bills in Utah protecting gun rights.
Wrapping this up and tying back into the economic wizardry in Utah, Jon does not need to name-drop “Reagan” continually into a debate in order to cover up shortfalls in his record, because the mantle of Reagan’s conservatism hangs over him. Jon talks of erasing our deficit, creating a jobs-friendly tax and regulatory environment, and of creating an energy future that isn’t reliant upon importing foreign oil. He has taken the heart of A Time For Choosing, and crafted it in a 21st century context. The message is one that unites, inspires, and takes a proactive approach (as opposed to the kicking-the-can-down-the-road that is all too often the case). And, much like Reagan, Jon has already proven himself able to unite.
In the 2008 election, the Utah voters went to the polls to decide if Jon Huntsman should serve a second term. 62% of them voted for the Republican John McCain for President, while a record-setting 78% of those same voters opted for Huntsman to return as their governor. He outperformed his own party’s candidate by 16 points in his state, a staggering figure. His margin of victory in the state also seems to be the largest margin of victory of any governor’s race in the past 30 years. Better still, when he left the office in August to take his position in China, his approval ratings were near 90%. These two numbers are precisely why Obama is terrified of a Huntsman candidacy. It is not some media-invented narrative, some filler line to throw into a story that “Barack may be scared of him”, his campaign manager Plouffe is quite literally terrified because this is the candidate that will ensure a single term for Obama. Huntsman presents a challenge that Democrats are trying to avoid at all costs: a Republican that can run on his own record, not merely a denigration of Obama’s record; a Republican that can appeal to voters with positive messages of growth, instead of relying upon negative one-line zingers. Because when the voters of this country are presented with an issues-based campaign with all of the cards on the table, rather than a personality-based campaign, who will the independents of this country select? It goes without saying. Once conservatives begin delving into Jon Huntsman, whether its reading stories about him or watching his speeches, they will find a candidate that presents our party with an opportunity not just to win in 2012, not just to win in 2016, but to create an entire new generation of young conservative thinkers and leaders.
The hard truth is that we’re at a crossroads. Not just for our country, but for our party. This is the time that we need a true conservative, an electable conservative, a conservative with a positive message to step up and take back the Presidency. Reagan would tell us: this is our time for choosing.
28 Year Old Conservative
A very compelling argument that OB&B, of course, agrees with completely.