LIZARDO: Jon Huntsman recklessly overlooked

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 richard.lizardo@yale.edu.

Comments

  • GeoJoe

    I like the last sentence!

  • River_Tam

    Jon Huntsman won exactly four constituencies in New Hampshire exit polls:

    1. Self-identified Democrats.
    2. Those who strongly opposed the Tea Party.
    3. Those who said they were “satisfied” with Obama.
    4. Those who said they were dissatisfied with the current slate of Republican candidates.

    Huntsman is another McCain – a man with liberal instincts who swung right to govern in a deeply conservative state. He is a technocrat, but the term “technocrat” should not be bandied about like a compliment. Technocracy is social engineering and is a deeply “progressive” impulse. Why else do you think Rachel Maddow held Happy Hour With Mrs. Huntsman on her program the other night?

    And to boot, he is a poor “technocrat” at that:

    **Jon Huntsman’s record:**

    * Born to a billionaire businessman, dropped out of high school. Obtained his G.E.D. enrolled in University of Utah, left on a mission to Taiwan, returned and attended Penn, (where there are multiple buildings and programs named for his family), majored in International Politics

    * Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, then US Ambassador to Singapore

    * Inherited an executive position at several companies named “Huntsman”. Unremarkable tenure.

    * Single Term as Governor of Utah. “A” on Tax policy, “F” on Spending Policy from the Cato Institute.

    * Ambassador to China

    **Mitt Romney:**

    * Born to millionaire businessman and later Governor of Michigan. Enrolled in Stanford, left to serve a mission to France. Became co-President of his mission, managing ~200 members. Returned and attended BYU. Majored in English. Spoke at commencement.

    * Enrolled in joint JD/MBA program at Harvard Business School / Harvard Law School. Graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School and in the top 5% at Harvard Business School.

    * Worked at BCG as a management consultant, then hired away to Bain & Company. Rose to VP.

    * Co-founded Bain Capital with Bill Bain and grew it to one of the foremost PE firms in the world.

    * In 1990, asked to return to Bain & Company and save it from financial ruin. Restructured the ailing company and within a few years had turned it around (while drawing a $1 salary).

    * In 1994, Ran against Ted Kennedy for Senate in Massachusets and lost.

    * Took over as President/CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games after widescale scandals hit the Organizing Committee. Turned around a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions into a profitable and successful games. Widely credited with great success from both sides of the aisle.

    * Served as governor of Massachusetts for one term (03-07) and engineered a $2 billion budget turnaround from deficit to surplus. Mixed record, but generally credited with handling crises, including turning around the Big Dig project.

  • River_Tam

    **Summary:**

    Jon Huntsman won the governorship as a Republican in Utah (not difficult) and served one and a half terms (not two, as Mr. Lizardo claims in his piece). He also served unremarkable tenures as an executive of companies founded by his father or grandfather, all of which have the “Huntsman” name. Never held a private sector job that wasn’t at a company named “Huntsman”. BA from Penn in international politics.

    Mitt Romney won the governorship as a Republican in Massachusetts (more difficult) and served one term. He also founded one of the best private equity firms in the world, turned around one of the best management consulting companies in the world, and helped save a floundering Olympic Games. BA from BYU in English. JD cum laude from Harvard Law School. Top 5% of his MBA class at Harvard Business School.

    Executive Experience: Huge Advantage, Romney.

    Holding a real job: Huge Advantage, Romney.

    Educational Attainment: Huge Advantage, Romney

  • River_Tam

    Side note: if this is what’s passing for being “conservative” at Yale these days, it’s pretty sad. Lizardo comes across as a concern troll – checking points off a list for a Republican base he considers beneath him. There’s more to conservativism than policy – it’s about ideology and fundamental beliefs. Technocrats like Huntsman and Bloomberg may be policy allies, but they’re not conservatives.

    I blame Nate Zelinsky for this unfortunate trend.

    • Lizardo

      With regard to the constituencies that made up most of Huntsman’s support, I couldn’t care less. First, I think it’s an extension of the fact that Huntsman is perceived as a moderate regardless of his conservative credentials. Second, I think it is a result of left of center voters appreciating a candidate that doesn’t come across as an ideologue and who demonstrates pragmatism and calls for unity.
      Regarding the comparison of records, I think Romney’s background in business is certainly admirable and probably better overall than Huntsman’s. But there are two things to keep in mind. (1) I’m looking for a candidate who has the broadest experience, and Huntsman’s experience in business, executive, and international fields meets my demands. (2) I think it is unfair to disqualify Huntsman’s time as CEO simply because it was in his father’s companies: Voters often look for candidates who have private sector experience because such candidates have the relevant insight into how the private sector works and into how companies would react to taxes, regulations, etc. By being CEO twice, Huntsman has attained said insights, and, as a result, has the relevant experience, regardless of how he got to those positions.
      You also demonstrated Huntsman’s vast foreign policy credentials through his service in Singapore and China and his service as U.S. Trade Ambassador to Asia and Africa. He has substantial knowledge of how the international economy works. He is also the only presidential candidate in the field with federal executive experience through his service in the Commerce Department. He definitely understands the free market and how it works. By the way, Romney can’t really claim any tangible foreign policy credentials.
      Now, with respect to his tenure as Governor, it is unfair to try to downplay Huntsman’s performance. Sure, he got an “F” in spending from the CATO Institute, but his “A” in tax policy and his tripling of the Rainy Day Fund were enough to propel him into fifth place—tied with Governor Perry—by the very same CATO Institute. Moreover, under his tenure, employment in Utah was the highest in the nation (by one measure, fourth by another), and the Pew Center named Utah one of the “Best-Managed States” under Huntsman, while Forbes’ index rated Utah as the number one best state for business. Keep in mind that Huntsman was governor from ’05-’09, during the economy downturn. To say he served “unremarkable tenures” is laughable. To say he’s not conservative when he won reelection with 78% of the vote and left office with over 80% in approval ratings is just as laughable. Sure, any Republican can win there, but only actual conservatives can hold so much support.

      • River_Tam

        Well, I’m not going to respond line-by-line through that block of text, but I’ll say the following:

        1) The reason Huntsman is calling for unity is because he doesn’t need to attack Obama because he’s not actually running for the 2012 nomination. He’s running for the 2016 nomination.

        2) Huntsman’s “broad” experience in foreign policy is not particularly broad, since (1) it’s restricted to Asia and (2) Ambassadorships are handed out like candy [eg: the Ambassador to Singapore from ’05-’09 was previously the chairman of the Republican Party in King County, WA and the Ambassador to Singapore from ’94-’97 was a lawyer who gave money to Clinton.

        3) Romney has extensive knowledge of how the international economy works, given that he founded one of the largest Private Equity firms in the world and was CEO of a global management consulting company.

        4) My point about Huntsman’s tenure as CEO was that he doesn’t have a record of business savvy or any evidence that he did any more than sit in the chair that his father built.

        5) My point about Huntsman’s F on spending policy is that he was a conservative by coincidence, not by principle. Remember, even a liberal can cut taxes if it’s good enough for the economy or if he people are clamoring for it enough. Romney was a moderate conservative in one of the most liberal states in the country. Huntsman was a moderate conservative in one of the most conservative states in the country. Who do you think was moderating which way?

        6) Huntsman’s tenure WAS unremarkable. Utah’s unemployment boom and dip mirror closely the change in the national unemployment figures, with slight amplification, which is unsurprising given that Utah is one of the whitest states in the country. Economic growth in Utah went negative at EXACTLY the same time it went negative in the US (’08) as did employment growth (’08). Huntsman DID help industry by cutting taxes, but this single (laudable) achievement does not make him a conservative or his tenure remarkable.

        7) You don’t need to be a conservative to have high approval ratings in Utah. You just need to be a Mormon. Leavitt and Walker (his predecessors, also both Mormons) had similarly high approval ratings (80%+ throughout their terms).

    • Lizardo

      And regarding your side-note, you seem to suggest that Huntsman doesn’t hold to conservative “ideology and fundamental beliefs.” Yes, he disagrees with conservatives on global warming, he’s soft on immigration, and he supports civil unions. But if his tenure as governor—again, after passing record tax cuts, three bills restricting abortions, three bills loosening gun laws, market-based health care reform, and school voucher programs—and his experience in different embassies—with his deep understanding of free trade and human rights—are any indication, I’d say he does hold conservative fundamental beliefs. He just doesn’t wear them on his sleeves, and I am perfectly okay with that. In fact, I appreciate a conservative pragmatist over a conservative ideologue.
      The larger point is that candidates like him such as former Governors Tim Pawlenty, Buddy Roemer, and Gary Johnson—all conservatives who governed effectively—are largely ignored by a Republican base that is only looking for someone to bash Obama, regardless of prior experience. And that is what I lament.

      • River_Tam

        He governed as a conservative in Utah. But his language – a lot more revealing than whether he cut taxes in a state that hates taxes – reveals that he’s a political pragmatist, not a conservative (see: Mike Bloomberg).

        Technocrats make nice Presidents when they think the solution is to cut taxes. They’re bad Presidents when they think the solution to obesity is to outlaw soda. Jon Huntsman does NOT believe in a small government. He might believe that government is “too large right now”, but that doesn’t make him a conservative. He does NOT adhere to the ideological principles of the conservative ethos, and that’s what makes him a technocrat, and not a conservative.

        By the way, mentioning Buddy Roemer (not a conservative, and such a bad governor that he lost an election to David Duke) and Gary Johnson (not a conservative, by his own admission) in the same sentence as Tim Pawlenty (as boring as paint drying, but actually conservative) is just hilarious.

  • Sam

    As a conservative Utahn, I’m deeply unimpressed by Jon Huntsman. He’s sat on the sidelines of the primary so far, taking potshots at the rest of the GOP field via twitter which- let’s face it- isn’t all that hard with this field. Utah’s success during his governorship has little to do with his competence or ideology; with the high quality of life, favorable tax laws, and abundance of educated, career oriented young professionals, Utah has successfully attracted tech and biotech firms. The natural resources and the tourism industry didn’t exactly hurt the economy either. Huntsman shows no record of original thought or actual conviction, and there is no reason to believe that he would be an effective, principled president.

    That said, I deeply respect his father, who is an entirely self made billionaire and has given more than 400 million dollars (!) to cancer research.

  • River_Tam

    Seconding what Sam said, and let me add as a caveat that I think Huntsman seems like a cool guy (see: his prog-rock addiction) and someone I’d love to have a beer with, but that doesn’t mean I want him as my President.

    Also, Huntsman is *young*. He’s 51 and thus the youngest candidate left in the field. It’s not surprising that he has far less experience than the seasoned Romney.

    Trust me, Huntsman will be back, and in greater numbers. We must be cautious.

  • observer

    A “cool guy” perhaps. But I high school drop-out who later got a GED and attended a school where a number of buildings bear his daddy’s name? Jobs later in one of his daddy’s companies? A patronage appointment to a short term diplomatic post – no doubt thanks, once again to daddy’s $$$ ? Not to impressive.

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