Why Are Pundits So Fascinated With Jon Huntsman?

Jon Huntsman – the pundits' Republican

Maybe it’s because Huntsman has been open to criticizing his own team or maybe it’s because he’s sent out some tweets about his acceptance of global warming – maybe it’s just that his daughters are interesting – whatever the case, pundits of all stripes are fascinated with the man. Huntsman himself wants to ‘stay relevant‘ in South Carolina and I suspect that we bloggers and journalists will keep him as relevant as we possibly can. (Voters, on the other hand, may not.)

Will Truman explains:

I can speak, at least to some extent, as to why a moderate or moderate-conservative would sign on with Huntsman. In addition to having a cooler persona than the other Republicans, Huntsman is interesting. For those of us that like political discussion, he seems to be the most likely candidate to actually deliver it. Presidential debates between Huntsman and Obama would be interesting (and not just because one used to work for the other). And if Huntsman is more conservative than he lets on? All the better! It would draw a great contrast during the election discussion. Huntsman could even help redefine the right into something less piquish and flesh things out.

Huntsman may be conservative, but he is also (if that) a different sort of one. He has gone after the banks in a way that few other candidates have. His platform includes opening up energy exploration and eliminating oil subsidies. These are things he seems ready and able to talk about. The other Republicans, for the most part, don’t.

This sounds about right to me. I just keep trying to find a Republican I can respect and admire and Huntsman fits the bill. Romney, despite his more moderate beginnings, strikes me as simply too disingenuous – too much the slimy politician, and too much the brash, chest-pounding hawk.

But Huntsman I do admire. Not so much because he’s come out as a man who believes in science but because he has remained pretty cool-headed, because his foreign policy is more realistic than the general thrust of his party, and because he’s been strong on the issue of financial regulation. He is, quite bluntly, the antithesis of the talk-radio right that has so dominated the conservative movement since Rush Limbaugh first blazed his way onto the airways.

There is, of course, another Republican candidate who would provide even more – and more important – contrast with Obama. But Ron Paul represents such a fundamentally different vision of government and society that even I cringe at times. Austrian economics are fascinating and offer profound and valuable insights about society and human nature but they simply don’t offer up all the answers to this confounding economic crisis we face – even if the Austrians were good about diagnosing the disease.

In many ways that’s how I feel about Austrians and about Ron Paul: they have a good sense of what’s wrong with the country, but their prescriptions are unsatisfying and, to be honest, romantic. As a romantic I can absolutely sympathize with the Austrians, but I’m a reformed romantic.

The gold standard? End the fed? Scale back or eliminate relatively harmless limbs of the federal government like the Department of Education? From where I’m sitting these are all distractions from more important problems like war and the war on drugs – issues that Ron Paul is very good on. But that’s because I’m primarily concerned with civil liberties.

But I digress. The point is simply that, as interesting as Huntsman is, he’s not nearly the most interesting candidate. But he may be the most palatable mainstream Republican in the race for many of the reasons Will notes. He’s not a hawk so far as I can tell, whatever his statements on Iran. He strikes me as more of an owl – a term I’d also apply to Barack Obama. Back when I considered myself a reform conservative I think a guy like Huntsman would have really excited me – not so much these days.

And yet, I can’t stop writing about the guy. A part of me, I think, still has a dog in this fight. Maybe I was a liberal, non-interventionist Republican in a past life.

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