The Most Interesting Part of Jon Huntsman's 'Regrets'

(Please see update below.) Through the past year's evolution of the Huntsman 2012 campaign, my own reactions went through an altered version of the famous K‪ü‬bler-Ross cycle. I started with denial: how could a serving member of the Obama Administration possibly run for the nomination of the Tea Party-era GOP? I lurched into admiration (also here, here, and here). I ended with acceptance/regret. And along the way I had the stage of anger/grief.

That stage came last August, because of Huntsman's on-the-fly decision to "raise his hand" and join all the other Republicans in promising to reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 in favor of budget cuts over tax increases. In case you've forgotten, here it is:

That moment was horrible. Right after the debate, my friend Hendrik Hertzberg* observed that Huntsman must have regretted his split-second choice: "This is pure speculation, of course, but I'm fairly sure that Huntsman was riven with regret in the aftermath of his humiliating surrender to fear.‬" At the time and later, other people said similar things: at a critical point of either standing up to, or joining in with, Tea Party anti-tax absolutism, Huntsman had unfortunately signed on.

Thus it is fascinating to see Huntsman singling out that choice as one he wishes he had made differently, according to Zeke Miller's account in BuzzFeed:

 ‪Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: "if you can only do certain things over again in life."‬
‪"What went through my head was if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes...then I'm going to have to do a lot of explaining," he explained. "What was going through my mind was 'don't I just want to get through this?'"‬
‪That decision, Huntsman said, "has caused me a lot of heartburn."‬

At the moment there is no point in "what-if"ism about that moment, because so many other things were working against Huntsman in this year's field. And after we see how this year's presidential race turns out, we'll have lots of time to consider whether the post-2012 GOP is likely to morph in a direction more favorable to Huntsman or whether he has permanently estranged himself from it. For now, it's a further credit to Huntsman's "call me crazy" sanity that he recognizes and admits what went wrong that day.

Update A reader adds:

‪And what will be even more interesting is when Romney announces that he also regrets putting his hand up as he continues his march to the middle.‬

* Routine disclosure: Rick Hertzberg was my colleague in the White House speechwriting mill during the first two years of the Carter administration and my successor as its director in the two years after that. Both before and after his time in politics he has of course been with the New Yorker.

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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.

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