Primaries cater to the fringes, but for a general election, a candidate must be more than a political cheerleader for a particular ideology. The former Utah governor could bridge that divide.
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Gradually, the dynamic in Republican politics has changed.
As is often the case in party primaries, in which candidates are judged not by a cross-section of the electorate but by those for whom any sign of compromise is unacceptable, the battle is for the hearts and minds of voters on the edges of the political world. This catering to the fringes -- a primary-election reality for both Democrats and Republicans -- produces candidates who mesh well with an unrepresentative base but either cannot appeal to a broader base or, if actually elected, may find it difficult to successfully govern in a large and diverse nation.
To a large extent, the Republican primary has played out as that typical outreach to the outer edges. It has been a campaign not for the presidency but for the nomination. But it now turns out that the Democrat in the White House isn't doing very well and a Republican might not just win his party's nomination but might actually be called upon to be President of the United States. That is a very different thing.
For the sake of the country, the focus in the Republican contest must begin to shift from who would be the best cheerleader for a particular ideological mindset to who would be the best president -- not the best president of the tea party or the Ripon Society or any other subset of the Republican electorate, but of all 300 million Americans of different backgrounds, different concerns, different interests, and different preferences. While it is possible that more than one of the known or potential candidates can fill that bill, I'd like to call attention to one who has been almost drummed out of the race by a lack of media attention.
Meet Jon Huntsman. In many ways, Huntsman is like Mitt Romney -- a businessman who has spent time in the public arena. But while Romney might meet the test of credibility as a potential president, Huntsman does, too, and has other advantages. For one thing, while every candidate will put forth a plan to stimulate hiring and strengthen the economy, Huntsman, alone among the announced Republican candidates, has a serious understanding of the lurking international challenges America faces. As Ambassador to China (no, he was not Barack Obama's ambassador, he was America's ambassador), Huntsman has seen first-hand the capacity of the Chinese, with their burgeoning economy, their aggressive outreach into Africa and Latin America, and their impressive military buildup. With new reports surfacing of Beijing's apparent willingness to allow Chinese arms manufacturers to provide weapons to Gaddafi loyalists in Libya, the need for a president who does not start from scratch in the international arena is crucial.
In addition, Huntsman, like most Americans, believes that human activity has played some role in affecting the global climate, and believes, as well, that the fossil evidence of evolution is pretty convincing. While some in the candidate field pander to almost any potential supporter who holds out a pledge to be signed -- a pledge to declare a firm position on some issue before a bill's language is even drafted, or discussions begun, or alternatives considered -- Huntsman says his only pledge is to the Constitution.
Jon Huntsman may not be the candidate most likely to bring hard-liners roaring to their feet with wild applause and raucous cheers, but he may be the one best suited to be president of the United States. With Barack Obama facing a real possibility of defeat, that's no small matter.