This election season, Republican primary voters have demonstrated their utter fickleness and absolute uncertainty about what they want. After the rise of the Tea Party, the GOP seemingly returned to the ideas of limited government and fiscal responsibility. And yet the Republican electorate has recycled a number of candidates who either do not have the best experience for the presidency or do not adequately represent these renewed conservative ideals.
The GOP first flirted with a former Democrat — now former Republican — Donald Trump, simply because he led the birther movement. Then conservatives decided to move on to other loud candidates who engaged in Obama-bashing but lacked the articulation or experience needed. These were the campaign-flops that became Rep. Michele Bachmann, Gov. Rick Perry and “entrepreneurial charlatan” Herman Cain.
But the real surprises this season have been the emergence of big-government conservatives Newt Gingrich and subsequently Rick Santorum. They have experience, several conservative accomplishments, but, most importantly, they have made sure to trash President Obama. The irony lies in the fact that both Gingrich and Santorum represent the antithesis of the Tea Party movement that everyone all too quickly chose to embrace them as the anti-Mitt Romney. In fact, had Gingrich and Santorum been seeking reelection to Congress in 2010, their big-government conservative records of deficit spending, entitlement projects and earmarks would have been sourly exposed by the Tea Party.
But though it may be surprising, the fixation with these candidates is completely explainable. It was the result of the popular anti-Romney sentiment. Consequently, many voters chose to forgo economic issues in favor of insignificant cultural crusades. Though not with the fanatic base of U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Gingrich and Santorum — merely seen as alternatives to Romney — have certainly enjoyed a large percentage of the electorate.
It is understandable that a significant majority of the Republican Party dislikes both Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. The former comes across as a political opportunist, disingenuously engaging in an inordinate amount of pandering. The latter lends himself too easily to conspiracy theories and extremist views on the economy and foreign policy.
However, the candidate that has been largely ignored by the GOP electorate — and to its own detriment — is Jon Huntsman. Republican voters dismiss Huntsman as far too moderate. However, this perception is quite unfair.
Sure, Huntsman holds more liberal positions with regard to global warming, immigration and civil unions. But on the issue that matters most to Republican voters — the economy — Huntsman is a staunch fiscal conservative.
As Governor of Utah, he cut taxes at record rates, passed health care reform without a mandate and enacted education reform that included voucher programs. As a candidate, Huntsman easily passes the Republican litmus test with his proposals to cut taxes, eliminate regulations, repeal ObamaCare, slash deficits and promote free trade.
Even when it comes to social issues, Huntsman is mostly conservative. He’s pro-life, having passed three bills that restricted abortions in Utah and adopted two foreign daughters. And on gun rights, Huntsman even got an “A” from the NRA.
Despite his relaxed tone, Jon Huntsman is no moderate. While it might be understandable that the base doesn’t respond well to Huntsman, I am completely baffled by the Republican establishment’s sheer disregard for the accomplished technocrat.
Jon Huntsman is arguably the most experienced in the field: He has business experience as a two-time CEO, executive experience as a two-term Utah Governor and diplomatic experience as a three-time U.S. ambassador. There is no question that Huntsman has the capability not only to handle the job of the presidency but also to excel at it.
And yet the GOP establishment’s choice is a former governor whose only consistency lies in the number of positions he’s held on each issue. Their favorite is a candidate who underperformed as Massachusetts’ governor, raising taxes, mandating health care and bringing the state to No. 47 in job creation. They have crowned a candidate whose tax proposals the Wall Street Journal deems “timid.”
At the end of the day, my fellow conservatives simply want a candidate who is bombastic in his — or her — conservatism. But that’s not very conservative. It is a foolish strategy that has taken precedence over substantive policy proposals. It is unfortunate that my fellow Republicans cannot recognize presidential material staring them right in the face. And we will lose to President Obama because of it.
Rich Lizardo is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.