A Young, Modern Republican Party? What’s Wrong With Voting Democrat?

So long as the Republican Party is the party of old, white men we won’t get guys like Jon Huntsman at its helm (though, as Larison points out, he’s hardly as modern and charming as we’d all like to think.)

Ben Smith writes:

The party Huntsman imagined — modernizing, reforming, and youthful — could still be born. That might be the reaction to a second smashing defeat at Obama’s hands, or that might be where President Romney takes his re-election campaign. But it’s now hard to see Huntsman leading that change. He bet, too early, on a fantasy, and ran for the nomination of a party that doesn’t exist, at least not yet. His decision tonight to drop out just marks his recognition of that fact.

We already have the Democratic Party. In it there are lots of free market types, lots of good-government types, lots of people in tune with youthful voters, etc. I’d like more civil libertarians in the Democratic Party, personally, but I see no reason why we need a more youthful modernized GOP when the Democratic Party is already leaps and bounds closer to that mark.

What we need is more focus on civil liberties issues from our liberal leaders (though I welcome civil liberties being embraced on the right as well.) We need more Ron Wydens and Russ Feingolds. I see the Democrats moving toward a sort of populism that isn’t necessarily bad but that doesn’t particularly excite me either. It’s a response to Tea Party populism on the right. But fighting fire with fire isn’t always the best move. And since I’m a market liberal, a lot of progressive populism rankles me.

Obama has already illustrated perfectly well that if we want to actually contain the size of government through smart policies the Democrats are a better choice than Republicans. Bush grew government in all the worst ways. As far as I’m concerned, Obama is a competent enough politician and president but hasn’t done nearly enough to constrain those bad areas of the state that Bush let out of the box. A “modern, youthful, GOP” wouldn’t do any better, and would likely do worse. Part of the appeal of Ron Paul is his willingness to scale back those parts of the government which are illiberal and violent. What we need to do is work to cultivate a Democratic Party that believes we ought to scale back the military, end illiberal detainment and surveillance policies, and write off the war on drugs as an expensive disaster.

There are progressive politicians out there who do care about these things, just not enough of them. A primary attempt at Obama from the left flank would have been extremely stupid politically, of course, but we do need to find other ways to push the needle in the direction of expanded civil liberties and economic freedom and a more efficient welfare state. (Note: I do not necessarily mean a scaled back welfare state, but one which is economically efficient. I do think that for all its flaws the ACA moves us in that direction though I will go into more detail on that in the future.)

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Jon Huntsman Is Out – Is He In A Better Position To Run In 2016?

James Fallows thinks that Huntsman’s exit was graceful enough that despite some bruises, he comes out a lot stronger than before:

We can’t tell anything about politics in real time, but my guess at the moment is that the run will have left him somewhat better off, bruised and rejected as he and his (attractive) family and staff must be feeling now. He has trivially embarrassed himself in a way he’ll easily be able to make fun of next time, with his Tourette’s-style interjection of Mandarin one-liners at debates and on the stump. This will be the equivalent of Bill Clinton making fun of his embarrassment at the 1988 Democratic convention, where he was mocked and practically hooted off the stage for an interminable speech nominating Michael Dukakis. Huntsman embarrassed himself with another split-second decision he’ll have time to reflect upon and learn from. That was when he raised his hand, along with everyone else, in saying that he, too, would reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 for budget cuts rather than tax increases.

But he also had a flash he can build on, when he dressed down Mitt Romney in the last New Hampshire debate for derogating Huntsman’s “service to country” as ambassador to China. And he had many more moments when he seemed to be making high-road (if occasionally wackyappeals than showing anger, bitterness, a willingness to pander, or other traits that will grate and make people dread the sound of his name four years from now. To illustrate the contrast: who, except the Democrats, would truly relish the prospect of Newt 2016? Or Cain?

So, sympathies to Team Huntsman on a race that was a long shot and that didn’t work out, but which he managed with a lot of dignity.

Indeed, although it is almost certain now that Romney will be the nominee – the troops will rally round him soon enough; Ron Paul is too much of a threat to the status quo – it is much less likely that Romney will beat Obama in November. He is the inevitable GOP candidate, but not a well-loved Republican among the base he needs badly behind him. A lot may ride on his vice presidential pick, though it’s hard to imagine that choice being as influential as it was for John McCain’s campaign in 2008.

Still, while Romney may be the nominee one has to wonder if Huntsman is still better situated to become president some day. He will be a more familiar figure over the next four years. Assuming Obama wins, 2016 is an open race. Huntsman comes into it popular and better known than in 2012. There’s plenty of unknowns, of course: the economy, the Iran situation, etc. But I’d wager that just about any Republican has a better chance in 2016 against a non-incumbent Democrat than they do toppling Obama in 2012.

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Jon Huntsman Is Out, Will Endorse Romney

Jon Huntsman is dropping out of the GOP race as early as Monday

I admit, I thought Huntsman would push through at least South Carolina, but Politico reports that this is not the case:

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor who was seen by Democrats months ago as the potential biggest threat to President Obama in a general election, is dropping out of the race tomorrow and will endorse Mitt Romney, a campaign official confirms to POLITICO.

A source said that Huntsman’s rationale for backing Romney, who he has criticized for weeks on the campaign trail as lacking a “core,” is that he didn’t want to block the person best prepared in the field to beat Obama, and then to lead the country and grapple with the economy.

“Jon Huntsman is proud of the campaign he ran and the message of restoring trust in Washington,” said a campaign official familiar with his thinking. “He didn’t want to stand in the way of the candidate most likely to beat Barack Obama and turn the economy around. That’s Mitt Romney.”

It’s a tough ending for Huntsman, who basically went broke months back, uprooted his campaign to New Hampshire – only to come in a disappointing third place.

Sorry pundits, no more Jon Huntsman speculation. No more hopeful profiles. No more wasted endorsements. That’s all she wrote.

This probably strengthens Romney’s hand, though not with the groups he most desperately needs to make inroads with – social conservatives and Tea Partiers. Admittedly, if Gingrich doesn’t drop out and endorse Santorum then Romney will remain a lot stronger in South Carolina and Florida. But Gingrich’s ego won’t let him resign so soon.

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Jon Huntsman Picks Up a South Carolina Endorsement

Pundits and voters alike make politicians out to be more than what they are.

It’s probably too little too late for Jon Huntsman, but the Mandarin-speaking ex-governor and ambassador can tuck the endorsement of South Carolina’s The State under his belt:

Mr. Huntsman is a true conservative, with a record and platform of bold economic reform straight out of the free-market bible, but he’s a realist, whose goal is likewise to get things done. Under his leadership, Utah led the nation in job creation, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-managed state in the nation.

He also is head and shoulders above the field on foreign policy. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. ambassador to Singapore and President George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador, and the next entry on that resume is even more impressive: He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China. It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board: “When the president asks you to serve, you serve.”

We don’t agree with all of Mr. Huntsman’s positions; for but one example, he championed one of the nation’s biggest private-school voucher programs. And with George Will calling him the most conservative candidate and The Wall Street Journal editorial page endorsing his tax plan, independent voters might find less to like about his positions than, say, Mr. Romney’s or Newt Gingrich’s.

What makes him attractive are the essential values that drive his candidacy: honor and old-fashioned decency and pragmatism. As he made clear Wednesday to a room packed full of USC students on the first stop of his “Country First” tour, his goal is to rebuild trust in government, and that means abandoning the invective and reestablishing the political center.

One really is forced to recall, when reading things like this, how much of politics is style not substance. The pragmatic center-right independents are drawn to Huntsman’s demeanor as much as anything. Even if his record is far to the right of where they’d like to be, his “honor and old-fashioned decency” are enough to carry the day. I’m sympathetic to this, though I find it ultimately less persuasive than policies which I actually agree with. Of course, since we can’t trust any politician to stick to their guns on policy, maybe demeanor really does matter.

On the flip side you have the Herman Cains of the world, men who aren’t really all that conservative – who don’t really even know the proper conservative talking points – but who make waves with voters because of their folksiness or their willingness to come across as extreme. Who cares that Newt Gingrich’s record is pocked with glaring betrayals of conservative orthodoxy, three marriages, and a history of lobbying. The fact that he can talk the talk and call the Obama administration a “secular socialist machine” is all it takes.

Liberals have been suckered in by candidates as well. No better example comes to mind than Mr. Obama himself, a man whose record and statements portrayed him as every bit the centrist Democrat and liberal internationalist but whose many fans saw in his message of hope and change something far greater.

Something to remember when placing our eggs in lonesome baskets. Ron Paul has gathered about him a huge, diverse, and most importantly die-hard following. What if, in the end, he turned out to be just another politician? And what if our pragmatic, charming Jon Huntsman turns out to be just another boiler-plate Republican with a trigger finger?

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Huntsman The Hawkish Owl

Huntsman's foreign policy record is too thin to know what he'd do in office.

Daniel Larison takes issue with my description of Huntsman and Obama as “owls” – a term I use to describe a realist foreign policy preference that is neither hawkish in the neoconservative sense or necessarily dovish:

I won’t rehearse the litany of all the interventions Obama has supported over the years, but suffice it to say I don’t think he fits the “owl” definition. Huntsman has less of a public record on these issues, which makes it a little harder to judge, but based on what we do know he has flatly opposed last year’s war of choice in Libya, he wants to wind down the war in Afghanistan, but he favors starting a new war of choice in Iran. This last one is so much more important and so completely wrong that it’s hard not to give it more weight. On Iraq, he took no public position on the war between 2002 and today, but he endorsed the most zealous pro-war candidate in the last cycle and criticized the withdrawal of U.S. troops and called for a residual force to remain there apparently indefinitely. Put another way, on the most important foreign policy issue of the last decade Huntsman professes to be agnostic or at least unwilling to revisit the debate, but based on how he is misjudging Iran it is fair to guess that he would have favored invading Iraq as well.

This is all true enough. I think Obama actually started out as an owl and moved in the hawkish direction over the years, culminating his move toward interventionism in the invasion of Libya and the assassination of Anwar Al-Awlaki. This is also what gives me most pause about Huntsman whose positions on Afghanistan and Libya were pretty good but, as Daniel notes, has made very loud noises about Iran.

Beyond the troubling nature of his Iran comments, Huntsman reminds me a little bit of a rightwing version of Obama. Obama seemed much better on matters of war and peace when he was on the campaign trail. In office he’s never stopped disappointing. Isn’t it just as likely that Huntsman will do the same, sounding a cautious note on various foreign threats and then pounding the war drum as loud as ever when the mullahs taunt him?

In any case, Daniel is correct – Obama is no owl, though I think his hawkishness is much less ingrained than many of his Republican rivals. He is a mildly hawkish technocrat who believes we can do small but important things through intervention. His administration also talks tough on Iran, but I don’t worry nearly so much that he’d actually go through with all-out war as I worry about a Romney or a Gingrich administration. Huntsman has too little a record on these issues to say with certainty.

Ron Paul and Gary Johnson are the only candidates who are firmly and reliably anti-war. But Obama, I’d wager, is still a more sober commander in chief than someone like Romney who, so far as I can tell, wants to revamp neoconservatism in ways that the Obama administration, however bad it’s been on continuing Bush-era policies, hasn’t even dreamed of. When it comes to Iran, Obama makes me nervous. The majority of his GOP rivals have me quite literally terrified.

What do we do when confronted with the threat of an Iranian war and the lesser of two evils? I can’t honestly say.

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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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Does Ron Paul’s New Hampshire Success Mean That Independent Voters Are Actually Really Conservative?

Jon Huntsman is not a moderate but he appeals to independents.

Jon Huntsman is not a moderate but he appeals to independents.

Writing at his new Daily Beast digs, David Frum notes that independents are not necessarily centrists. “If Ron Paul did well with independents, it’s because the state’s independents actually tilt to the right of the mainstream Republican party,” he observes. But is this true?

The post has a picture of Huntsman (duplicated here), another politician who has been described as a ‘moderate’ when in fact, other than his admittedly more moderate social views, the former governor and ambassador is well to the right of guys like Romney or Gingrich when it comes to fiscal policy, taxes, and markets. That he’s also affable and not prone to talk-radio-screechiness is a point in his favor but not an argument for his centrism.

That being said, I think it’s just wrong to say that independents are conservative or that they are to the right of the Republican party. It not only depends on each individual independent, it also depends on the issue.

The reason Ron Paul did so well in New Hampshire is largely because a lot of people are war-weary. They’re tired of the war on drugs. They want a scaled back federal government. They’re libertarians, in other words, or anti-war liberals. If anything is true it’s the fact that Paul draws a wide swath of the electorate to his banner.

The problem lies in our insistence in framing everything in this tired old left-right dichotomy.

I mean, I used to think of myself as a conservative (now I resist the urge to use scare quotes) – my friend Alex Knapp won’t let me forget this piece on up-and-coming conservatives that listed me as ‘David Frum: The Next Generation.’ And while I do think David makes tons of sense on lots of domestic policy issues, I tend to have very different foreign policy views. I’m more of a libertarian than David and to the left of him on issues like the drug war. I also call myself a liberal though I’m probably too conservative for many liberals (and too bleeding-heart for most libertarians.) These labels are blunt instruments used more often to cast people out of a group than to include them in a meaningful cause.

In any case, if you go to New Hampshire you’ll find a lot of independent voters who are probably to the right of the Republican party on fiscal issues but well to the left on social issues. The fact is, calling people right or left these days is often just an exercise in futility. Outside the tribal grounds most people are either not very political at all or much more heterodox than we give them credit for.

So I wouldn’t go so far as to beat the America-is-a-conservative-nation drum just because indie voters gave Ron Paul second place in New Hampshire. Actually, going against all my pundit instincts, I’d be careful to draw too many lessons at all from a primary season. It’s too much the tournament, too much the emotional brawl, to really give us a clear picture of the American electorate, try as we might.

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In New Hampshire ‘Live Free Or Die’ Voters Will Choose Romney Because Freedom’s Just Another Word

Voters wait outside a polling station before its door opened for primary voting January 10, 2012 in Concord, New Hampshire.

Voters wait outside a polling station before its door opened for primary voting January 10, 2012 in Concord, New Hampshire.

Despite being a bastion for libertarian-minded independents, New Hampshire voters will probably choose Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s primary. It’s possible that Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman could pull a Santorum-like surprise, but not very likely.

Of course, anything is possible this primary season. Even Rick Santorum is polling better in New Hampshire after his strong Iowa showing. Santorum’s boost in the Granite State is a sign of Romney’s weakness. Voters are scrambling to find whichever anti-Romney candidate will do – even a socially conservative populist like Santorum.

Santorum has had a little help from his friends, of course, as all the candidates turn their ire on Romney. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is out for blood, accusing Romney’s former company Bain Capital of “looting” workers. “Is capitalism really about the ability of a handful of rich people to manipulate the lives of thousands of other people and walk off with the money?” Newt asked, turning his own populist rhetoric up another notch.

The Gingrich of the past has been very clear about his capitalist credentials. Certainly his talk of the current president’s ‘secular-socialist machine’ has been a far cry from the populism of his current campaign. Then again it’s no surprise that the mercurial former speaker is turning to populism. His tenure as the leader of the opposition in the House was defined by his anti-Clinton populism.

Meanwhile, Santorum is running as the Pat Buchanan candidate, minus Buchanan’s foreign policy views. Economically populist, socially conservative, it’s striking that in the Tea Party infused GOP Santorum is holding such sway with voters. Then again, it’s somewhat baffling that Romney or Santorum would make inroads with New Hampshire voters.

This is home to the Free State Project after all – a movement aimed at getting as many libertarian-minded people to move to New Hampshire as possible and create a sort of libertarian safe-haven there. New Hampshire voters are more socially liberal than other conservative states but they’re very fiscally conservative. This is essentially the antithesis of Rick Santorum. Romney isn’t much better.

The lesson is simple: never underestimate the culture wars. The Tea Party, it turns out, was just a clever facade. The conservative movement has never truly shifted gears from social to fiscal conservatism. Tea Party austerity politics are simply a manifestation of the recession – the confluence of a liberal in the White House and high unemployment. Social conservatism is still very much en vogue. Peel back the fiscal conservatism and underneath the Tea Party veneer you’ll find the culture wars very much alive and kicking.

New Hampshire may be a better fit for Jon Huntsman or Ron Paul than it is for Romney or Santorum. And Huntsman does appear to be surging after a tireless on the ground campaign there. But it’s too little too late for the former Utah governor whose socially moderate views and fiscally conservative record place him more inline with New Hampshire voters than either Romney or Santorum.

Ron Paul has a steady show of support in the state as well but probably not enough for the win. He may be the Tea Party dream candidate, but in 2012 the Tea Party may be going out of style – if it ever was truly in style to begin with.

As strange as it is for the independent, deeply libertarian state of New Hampshire to elect a big government conservative like Romney when they have perfectly acceptable candidates in both Paul and in Jon Huntsman, smart money is still on Romney for the win.

Beyond New Hampshire, unless Santorum can pull another magic trick after South Carolina, the nomination is Romney’s to lose. Santorum doesn’t have the financial base to pull off a nation-wide Iowa surprise. Paul does but it’s hard to see him getting enough delegates nationally to topple Romney (Paul may not be running to win, of course, but more on that later.)

In any case, after the surprise in Iowa, today’s New Hampshire primary should be interesting. But “Live Free Or Die” will prove about as true a motto as it was in 2008 when New Hampshire went to that other neoconservative big-government candidate, John McCain.

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In the Future All American Presidents Will Speak Chinese

Well okay – that’s probably overly optimistic. But if Americans do elect Jon Huntsman in 2012 or, more likely in 2016, we’ll have our first fluent Chinese speaking president. Given the geopolitical dynamics going forward into the 21st century, that’s probably not such a bad thing. Beyond that, this is just very impressive.

And I thought George W. Bush’s Spanish was a cut above the cloth (and certainly better than his English.)

Video via The Dish where Andrew claimsclaims, mind you – that he’s not being paid by the Huntsman SuperPac.

And here’s Huntsman in the most recent debate pointing out that Romney’s ideas on Chinese-American relations would lead to a trade war. Romney is practically incoherent on this subject – and he’s the guy Republicans are almost certainly going to choose. I will point this out a lot in the coming months, but the inmates have truly taken over the asylum.

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