[NB: the following is a personal endorsement by GBTP member Tom Meyer; the GBTP does not endorse candidates.]
In evaluating a candidate for office, there are — ultimately — only two questions to ask:
- What has he done that is relevant to the office he seeks? and
- Can he get into office and, once there, deliver on his previous record?
All else is details.
Based on the answers to these questions, I believe Gov. Jon Huntsman is the best of the remaining candidates to challenge President Obama next fall. None of the others offers his combination of conservative accomplishment in office, electability against the president, and likelihood for success once there.
As to the first question, Governor Huntsman has record of achievement in Utah that should give conservatives of all varieties much to applaud. Tax hawks can note that he reduced sales, business, and state income taxes, saving Utah’s taxpayers a net of $409M. Pro-lifers may note that Huntsman signed three anti-abortion bills while in office: one banning second-trimester abortions, another making third-trimester abortions count as felonies, and a third requiring abortion providers to explain that unborn children experience pain. Libertarians and gun-owners can celebrate his liberalization of Utah’s draconian alcohol laws and Utah H.B. 357, recognizing the right of citizens to carry concealed weapons on their property and in their vehicles without a license. As Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote in his superb profile of the governor this past summer:
In Jon Huntsman’s America, once a child survives the first trimester, he’s well on the way to having a rifle in his small hands and extra money in his pockets.
That said, Huntsman’s record is far from perfect. The most significant failure of his administration was on spending, where his record was truly abysmal, increasing it by 6.8%/yr in real terms over the course of his governorship. Additionally, Huntsman’s lack of concern over the TARP bailouts as well as his health care reform package — a smaller, more efficient version RomneyCare, though without the individual mandate — were stains on his record.
But even with these fiscal blemishes, the libertarian Cato Institute still ranked Huntsman as one of the best governors in the country in 2006 with 59 points (6th best) and 2008 with 60 points (7th best). In comparison, Gov. Rick Perry received 61 and 60 points in the same rankings, while Gov. Tim Pawlenty received 55 and 56.
Some social conservatives may object to the domestic partnership law Huntsman signed in Utah. Whatever one’s feelings on the matter, this is a position squarely in the American mainstream and no different than President Obama’s (purported) stance. Simply put, most Americans want the issue to go away. Note that Gov. Perry’s now-infamous “Strong” video — where he stated that “there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school” — is already the 4th most unpopular video in the history of YouTube (by number of “dislikes”). The marriage issue can’t win a presidency, though it can go a long way toward losing it.
As for whether he can beat Obama, Huntsman has three advantages over his primary opponents. First, unlike all the previous Not-Romneys, Huntsman looks better on close inspection than he does at first glance; if he can rise in the polls, he’s unlikely to fall back again. Second, his diplomatic demeanor and lack of interest in playing the hotblooded culture warrior make him more attractive to moderates and independents. Third, his nomination will put the president at a tactical disadvantage; sure, it’s possible to attack a man whose last job was answering his president’s call to serve and who resigned amicably only a year ago…but it’s tougher to pull off when you’re that president.
Lastly, as to what Huntsman would do in office. In addition to his record — the best indicator we have as to how he would govern — he has taken three important stances that indicate how he would govern. Like the other candidates, he has promised to sign a repeal ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank. More importantly, he has unambiguously endorsed the Rep. Ryan’s Path to Prosperity which. As you may recall, Romney cannot bring himself to a decision on and which Newt Gingrich called “right wing social engineering.” Lastly, he proposed a solid tax reform plan that would flatten and reduce the income tax rates (while removing deductions) and lower the corporate tax rate by 10%, a plan the the WSJ called “as impressive as any to date in the GOP Presidential field.” Huntsman’s proposals are at least as good as any of his opponents and success in any of them would mark a significant achievement.
As for foreign policy, with the Iraq War is over, and the Afghanistan War is coming to an end soon, other challenges are ahead of us. Huntsman’s experiences in Asia as ambassador to Singapore and China appear to have given him a clear, critical eye of our interests there that should serve a president quite well. And while I would prefer to have seen a more deep throated-opposition to the president’s congressionally-unapproved campaign in Libya, he still opposed it.
Governor Huntsman is far from the ideal GOP candidate: he’s made significant errors in office and has done an unaccountably terrible job of wooing Republican voters. But, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, one goes to the primaries with the candidates one has. Huntsman is more conservative than Mitt Romney, more reliable than Newt Gingrich, and more likely to beat President Obama than Rick Perry (let alone Rep. Bachmann or Sen. Santorum). For someone who wants to see a smaller, less intrusive, more competent, less grandiose federal government, Huntsman isn’t merely safest choice, he’s thebest choice.
This year, he’s my choice.