Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Do Conservative Republicans Disdain Jon Huntsman?

Ross Douthat asks an interesting question. Conservative Republicans are lusting for an alternative to Mitt Romney. So why are they trying to rekindle an old flame like Newt Gingrich when they could be making eyes at Jon Huntsman?

Everyone recognizes, after all, that Newt carries more baggage than your average ocean liner. Huntsman travels light by comparison by virtue of an unblemished biography and a sparkling gubernatorial record that’s markedly more conservative than Romney’s and ideologically comparable to Rick Perry’s. Moreover, Huntsman has the intellectual dexterity that Perry plainly lacks to go toe-to-toe with Gingrich, Romney and Obama on a debating platform. So why is Gingrich a finalist in the Republican presidential campaign and Huntsman isn’t?

Douthat thinks it’s because Huntsman’s guilty of “political malpractice.” He could have positioned himself in the spot that Gingrich now occupies by default, as the most electable candidate to Romney’s right. Instead, Huntsman decided, inexplicably, to pitch himself as the guy who was going to save the Republican Party from all those crazy Tea Partiers. As a result, conservatives never gave a first, much less a second, look to a candidate they should have had their eyes on all along.

I can’t speak for conservatives, but I suspect that Douthat’s forgetting the thing that most disqualifies Huntsman as a presidential candidate in their eyes: viz., he accepted Obama’s invitation to be his ambassador to China. Obama’s election was widely regarded as the death knell of “movement conservatism,” the ideological well-spring of the Republican Party since it surrendered to its Reagan wing in the 1980s. And it wasn’t only liberals who were saying that.

Pundits who’d been card-carrying members of the conservative movement, like David Frum and David Brooks were saying substantially the same thing and looking like they weren’t very sorry to say it. They knew that, by jumping ship in rough waters, they’d be burning their partisan bridges to the Reaganite Republican Party and their ideological bridges to movement conservatism. But they were betting that the 2008 election signaled that these were bridges to nowhere anyway. When he decided to serve as Obama’s ambassador to China, Huntsman was laying down substantially the same bet.

We can leave aside the question of whether the death of movement conservatism would have been a good or bad thing because, by any reasonable standard, Obama’s election gave it and the Reaganite Republican Party new life. I presume that Frum and Brooks don’t need to be advised that they’ve been left without a partisan and ideological home. However tightly he may now embrace the Paul Ryan budget or rate-reducing tax reform, substantially the same thing goes for Huntsman.


Scrooge McDuck said...

Because Republican primary politics is highly tribal, and Huntsmen does not appear to respect the culture of the tribe. He does not disdain liberals, or claim that they are trying to destroy the country. He opposes shibboleth policies of the Republican field (for example, disdaining Norquist's tax pledge, and accepting the reality of man-caused global warning) which serve more as tribal tattoos than actual policy prescriptions.

In other words, his actual policies may be highly conservative, but he does not send out the signals to the activist base that he is one of them.

While Gingrich is hardly an orthodox conservative, he does stick with the "right" position on these highly symbolic, more-cultural-than-actual positions favored by the tea party right. Liberalim is not only wrong-headed, but evil. Obama does not have the best interests of the country at heart.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, his actual policies may be highly conservative, but he does not send out the signals to the activist base that he is one of them."

I think that's right, but on what planet does it make sense, political or otherwise, to campaign on the proposition that the people who agree with you on most things are less rational than the people who disagree with you?

Charlie said...

I'd rephrase anon.'s question: What's the point of being liberals' favorite Republican? They'll always turn on you when it counts just like they turned on John McCain. The same things goes the other way. Consider how many of those Blue Dogs who were trying to be conservatives' favorite Democrat got creamed in 2010.

Both the right and the left are tribal. What can Huntsman be thinking?