Don’t be fooled by the title above — although I’m independent, the chances that I’ll vote against President Obama in 2012 are slim to none. But unlike all of the other Republican candidates, I would have no issue in considering voting for Jon Huntsman, Obama’s former ambassador to China and former governor of Utah.
No, this isn’t merely by process of elimination within the GOP’s laughable pool, Huntsman is genuinely an impressive candidate who has been unfairly, but unsurprisingly written off as “that guy with terrible poll numbers.” He might be polling at less than one percent with only two weeks until the Iowa primary, but in case of a miraculous comeback, here’s why I would at least consider voting for Huntsman in the general election:
1. He’s sane.
Unfortunately, by recent GOP standards, this seems to be as much of a flaw as it is an assumption. In truth, Huntsman’s unwillingness to simply preach extremities and produce gaffes ripe for the Internet are probably why his numbers are so low. He is, after all, just one actor in a theater that has allowed Herman Cain and Rick Perry to headline the playbill.
His adult-in-the-room candidacy is exactly why the press loves him, especially some of the old-school right-wing pundits like George Will (I’ve seen at least three different magazine features titled something like “Why doesn’t the GOP love Huntsman?”). You can’t blame them: covering Huntsman is like writing a feature on Beyonce after pushing deadline stories on Kim Kardashian, Snooki, and Charlie Sheen.
I’ll go more into detail in the following point, but Huntsman’s platform has generally been accepted as reasonable and pragmatic, somewhere in between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, except without the Ron Paul or the Mitt Romney. There is no flashy 9-9-9 special, no cuts as draconian as Perry would prefer (if he could name them), and no absurd pledges he could never implement in reality. It’s not difficult to sound sane during this year’s GOP race, but at least Huntsman is doing it well.
2. He’s not afraid to ditch — and criticize — the GOP line.
In Huntsman’s own words, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” This subtle jab at the extreme right-wing was probably his most popular bite, but it certainly wasn’t the only instance he publicly disagreed with contemporary GOP mainstream towards a more centrist line. Here’s a few others:
- Huntsman was the only candidate to not sign onto Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes of any kind. If that seems like a campaign stunt to distinguish himself from the fold, when Norquist lobbied to get him to finally sign, Huntsman’s adviser said, “Never gonna happen. We’re not signing anything.”
- Huntsman isn’t exactly every corporation’s dream commander-in-chief. In a WSJ op-ed, he argues that the Congress should follow in the U.K.’s shoes (cue GOP eyebrows furrowing) and end too-big-to-fail banks. He proposes imposing fees on banks whose size exceeds a certain percentage of GDP, preventing too-big-to-fail status. ”We need a level playing field,” he writes, a phrase seemingly copied and pasted from Liberals For Dummies. “We need banks that are small and simple enough to fail, not financial public utilities.” Liberal economist Simon Johnson praised Huntsman for for being “sensible” and for “articulating a coherent alternative approach to the financial sector.” Huntsman has “natural Republican ideas,” in a good way.
- The headline for another Huntsman op-ed proclaims, “Bring U.S. military in line with new reality.” I urge you to read it. Again, this could be an exact talking point from the Obama administration or a Democratic primary debate. The points he makes about his opponents are smart and bold: draconian across-the-board cuts are a terrible idea; merely eliminating wasteful spending has a minimal effect; giving the military a blank check is bad for strategy and for the economy. “I have consistently called for our troops to return from Afghanistan as soon as possible,” he writes. “But I also believe President Barack Obama has been too quick to commit forces to other missions not core to our security interests.” Read that last sentence over again.
- For about two weeks, there was a new joke going around the GOP: Donald Trump walks into a bar, and says he’s going to moderate a presidential debate. The punchline is that this isn’t a joke, it’s the current state of the Republican party. Unlike all the other candidates, Huntsman saw the absolute absurdity in this one-episode season of The Apprentice: Tea Party Special, and was the first to vigorously reject Trump’s invitation. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney followed suit, but not until after Trump lashed out at Huntsman, who stood his ground, apparently hoping for some dignity in this race.
3. He knows China very, very well.
Any administration that doesn’t (at least privately) admit that the 21st century thus far is China’s is looking backwards. Yet, most of the GOP debates have barely even mentioned China, let alone any country in the Eastern Hemisphere. As a result, Huntsman’s proven diplomatic career has just become a mere bullet point on his resume. Though he was only ambassador to China for less than two years (and two years to Singapore during H.W. Bush), Obama wouldn’t just appoint any conservative Republican governor to be his ambassador to the world’s new powerhouse.
Poke fun at his daddy issues all you want, but Huntsman inherited and successfully ran a multi-billion dollar company while remaining a leading international trade representative. He guided China and Taiwan’s entry into the WTO, lived in Taipei for two years, and even became fluent in Mandarin. That’s right, dude’s fluent in Mandarin. He can appoint himself to the ambassador to China again.
His credentials come with a distinct grasp for what dealing with China actually means. Romney plays to the right by accusing China of “cheating” and “stealing our jobs,” while Cain ominously warned Americans that China might soon become a nuclear state, which it has been since 1960s. Huntsman adds a dose of realism, admitting the real threats (and potential) of China:
“You can get an applause line by saying that you’re going to go to war with China. That you’re going to slap a tariff, without remembering that you’ve got [to work with China on] North Korea. You’ve got to work on Iran sanctions. You’ve got Pakistan. You’ve got global economic rebalancing. You’ve got the South China Sea. You’ve got a host of issues that are all part of the U.S.-China relationship. And a trade war would grind it all to a halt, killing small businesses and exporters in this country.”
4. He’s running a convincing campaign.
I know what you’re thinking: how the hell is a candidate polling at less than five percent “running a convincing campaign”? On this point, I’ll ask you to look away from the numbers, which in this case are more representative of the GOP’s craving for extremism rather than an electable candidate. Most of the examples above make clear that Huntsman isn’t sacrificing his centrist ideology just to get nominated (although he was a vocal supporter of the Paul Ryan budget plan), but his campaign shows that he’s not hesitant to put up a fight.
With almost no contest, Huntsman has been running some of the best ads this primary season. I could link to several here (there’s spots comparing Mitt Romney to a flipping monkey and to gymnasts on a balance poles), but this one — “Mittstant Reply” — might be the best:
And for social media geeks, Huntsman has used online outreach in a way that shows he actually gets what the word “tweeting” means. He’s engaged with voters in several online Q&A’s, which despite the fact that they’re probably run by a staffer, are quick and informative. Even his three daughters — and their husbands – are on Twitter. And they’re all pretty hot. That deserves at least some electoral points, right?
5. His record doesn’t lie.
Huntsman’s campaign has been branding him as a “genuine, consistent conservative,” which he is, in the wonky George Will / Wall Street Journal class of conservative. But his record as governor of Utah is impressive to both conservatives and liberals, an attribute that would give him a serious advantage in a general election. Huntsman supported gay marriage, advocated Obama’s stimulus program, and as mentioned earlier, very much believes in climate change (he instituted cap-and-trade plans in Utah).
At the same time, Romney and Perry wouldn’t mind having his numbers as governor. Huntsman claims he brought Utah to fiscal prosperity by running the state like a business, something half of all GOP candidates that have ever run for higher office have boasted. But Huntsman might one of the few sincere ones: during his tenure, Utah was the number one job creator in the country. Skeptical voters (and Perry) probably scoff at that claim, but the uber-skeptical PolitiFact actually verifies it with statistics.
However, Huntsman’s proudest achievement as governor was his complete renovation of the state’s tax code. Remember Herman Cain’s completely unrealistic 9-9-9 plan? Huntsman passed through legislation a much more reasonable-sounding 8-14-23 plan, which included the largest tax reductions in state history. Responses were mixed, but for years, candidates for every federal and state office have vowed to simplify tax codes without sacrificing fiscal sense. As with several other proposals, at least Huntsman has some concrete evidence to show for it.
Bonus Reason. He rides a motorcycle and wears denim a lot.