If We're Nearing 'Peak Newt,' It's Time to Talk More About Huntsman

GingrichPic.jpgIn the nuthouse festival that is the 2012 GOP race, the recent rise of Newt Gingrich can mean only that his fall is imminent. Will it be Jon Huntsman's turn next? We can think of reasons to be skeptical, but for now let's assume that he's due for "mentioning" as the next up-and-coming contender.

Readers have responded to previous items, debating whether Huntsman is really running a "sane" and "serious campaign," or whether it seems that way only when graded on the curve. I'll put up one installment now and at least one more tomorrow.

Obama-Jon-Huntsman-5-16-09.jpgFrom a Republican in the Midwest who is not buying, and is not even sure what Huntsman is selling:

I have to say I just don't get what John Huntsman is doing.  As an Obama appointee, he's got no more chance of winning the GOP Presidential nomination than does Ron Paul.  He's not putting forward a version of Republican thinking dramatically different from the party mainstream, as (among others) John Anderson, Pat Robertson, and Paul all have done at various times during the last few decades.  The content and tone of his criticism of other Republican candidates -- or of the organized interests that now dominate the party -- have been weak tea.  If a John Huntsman attack were a fastball, it wouldn't break the proverbial pane of glass.
 
     You may have noticed that John Huntsman speaks no more than any of the other candidates on the salient fact about the Republican Party over the last decade -- the disastrous tenure of the last Republican President.  What is the point of that?  It doesn't make sense for someone who wants to change the GOP; every Republican running this year endorses the core of the Bush administration's domestic policy (tax cuts for the people most likely to contribute to Republican campaigns), and all but Paul were staunch supporters of Bush's foreign policy.  It doesn't even make sense for someone hoping to break through in the general election, as durable as Bush's unpopularity has been.   
 
     Huntsman just looks to me like a guy trying to make an omelet without breaking any eggs.  He's John McCain in 2000 without the entertainment value.  McCain used to get criticized for making the media -- suckers for a personal "story" and a politician who made good copy -- his major constituency.  Huntsman seems to be going for something like that; he wants to be the candidate of "sane" Republicans, whatever that means.  So what?

 From another reader in the Midwest, it's about 2016 - but that may not work either:

I think most readers misunderstand Huntsman's goals.  Huntsman isn't really running to be the Republican nominee this fall.  Huntsman is trying to establish himself as a presence for the next presidential election.  He is probably calculating that the Republican nominee will lose to Obama this coming fall and that this will discredit the right wing looney wing of the party.  He will then be the mature adult who can move the party towards the center and be a creditable candidate against whomever the Democrats put forward.

There are two obvious problems with this plan.  First, Romney may win the general election and that would shut out any possibility of a Huntsman candidacy in 2016.  Second, he may be underestimating the hold the right wing, with their powerful combination of crude ideology and defense of plutocracy, has on the Republican Party.

From a reader in California, he's not that sane anyway:

I would like to add one thing to the conversation about Huntsman's relative sanity: we cannot forget his utterly shameless attack on the EPA and its supposed "regulatory reign of terror." He has used the same line more than once, so it was certainly not an unthinking remark made in the heat of the moment during the August debate. But it was an unthinking remark in the sense that no responsible citizen at this historical moment can reasonably claim that EPA regulations, such as they are, are "terroristic," for reasons that are patently obvious and too numerous to mention. Not to put too fine a point on it, but he sounded psycho.

And from another reader who says, it's not the candidate, it's the party:

I was born in 1950. Apathy, cynicism, a desire to avoid jury duty and free-floating misanthropy prevented me from voting until 2004.

Observing the antics of Shrub and Dr. Strangelove forced me to register to vote and join the ACLU at about the same time. I am a one-issue voter: ANTI-Republican.

I voted for Kerry in '04 and Obama in '08, not because I thought they were saviors but because they were the non-Republican candidates with the best chance of winning.

I have also been a union carpenter since 1975. I have not worked since Aug. 2008 (three months before Obama was elected and six months before he took office). In the ensuing 3+ years I have seen nothing ( I have plenty of time to look) from the GOP that lessens my disdain and much that increases it. When people like David "Axis of Evil" Frum are leaving/being expelled and openly question the direction of the GOP, I feel some unneeded vindication.

Your twenty-something liberal ex-Obama supporter states: In addition, though through no obvious fault of his own, this President has excited such reactionary passion, and elicited such toxic vitriol from the right to make accomplishing true compromise on almost any issue nearly inconceivable....

Capitulation to GOP tactics of gridlock, obstruction, endless filibusters, etc., and Mitch McConnel's stated goal of making Obama a one-term President does not seem to me a sound liberal strategy.

And from a reader who disagrees with a previous message from a disillusioned ex-Obama voter:

The line below [from that reader, about Obama] is laughably wrongheaded in particular...

"He has continued to assert executive authority, degrade civil liberties, and maintain overseas occupations (as well as engage in new hostilities in places like Libya, Yemen, and Somalia), to a degree that makes the previous Bush administration appear humble and judicious by comparison." [emphasis by this reader]..

What really irks me is that liberals are so interested in eating their own children.  That this reader, and his ilk - who no doubt are legion - honestly think it is not only logical, but MORALLY REQUIRED to jump ship on the most liberal and effective President since ---Johnson? Truman?  FDR? --- and hang their hats on Jon Huntsman is sickening in its lack of principle and common sense.

Make fun of the Republican base all you want.  When they pick someone, they'll support him or her because ultimately that person will keep them and their priorities in mind.  For how many years have Republicans promised to overturn Roe?  Did values voters bail out every time they failed?   Only petulant, entitled liberals would be so dumb as to not support Obama against a Republican because they didn't get every single thing they wanted RIGHT AWAY.

I'm reminded  of Lord Helmet's words of wisdom from Spaceballs.

For good measure, I round off this report with an item from Bill Bishop's Sinocism blog, out of Beijing, which suggests that Huntsman's most redoubtable point of expertise, his experience as the Obama Administration's Ambassador to China, may be causing a complication he didn't have in mind just now. (Short version: in the latest debate Huntsman said that free expression via the Internet was "gonna take China down," a remark now being used by the Chinese authorities to justify tighter Internet controls -- not that they are ever lacking in excuses to do so. Read Bishop's item for the whole perspective.) And also note the new air quality emergency reported by all friends in Beijing.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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