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The Centrist

Jon Huntsman had a busy -- and empty -- week

By 6.24.11

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The "best" presidential nominee for the GOP, as deemed by mainstream media reporters and commentators, is always the most liberal one. So, naturally, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is "intriguing" to some of them. At the announcement of his presidential run, journalists appeared as numerous as supporters. Some journalists like that he is "pro-immigration," "pro-civil unions," once supported business-killing efforts to control the weather, and subscribes to their phony definition of civility.

They contend that the White House is "worried" about him, that he is the candidate it most "fears," etc. If so, it is hard to see why. He could capture the voters in the "center," pundits say. No, he wouldn't. His nomination would surely be more unsuccessful than even John McCain's, whose similarly vaunted "moderation" left independents unimpressed enough to vote for Obama.

Self-consciously "centrist" Republicans don't have a track record of winning the center. They just demoralize the right and lose the center, which is why the press never fails to provide the GOP with unsolicited advice on their behalf. Before the sweeping Tea Party victories of 2010, the media also counseled the GOP on the urgency of a "centrist" course.

Huntsman's entrance into the race makes a GOP field that already looked thin appear even weaker and destined to repeat the dreary Dole-to-McCain pattern of nominating candidates at odds with the base. The only hope is that Huntsman and the other establishment Republican candidates in the race will cancel each other out.

In choosing the location of his announcement at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, Huntsman borrowed from Ronald Reagan's campaign. It would be better if he borrowed from his politics. Clips of Reagan's speech at Liberty State Park show him tearing into Jimmy Carter for his destructive economic policies. Huntsman, by contrast, spoke of his "difference of opinion" with a "president" he served.

Huntsman was Obama's diplomat in China and seems intent upon treating his campaign as an act of diplomacy. His announcement speech almost sounded like an ambassadorial address, relying on a string of platitudes anyone could have uttered.

"I don't think you need to run down anyone's reputation to run for president," he said. Does this extend to Obama's reputation as president? If so, why is Huntsman running? Huntsman says he is taking the "high road," as if politely ignoring bad policies and actions is more responsible than criticizing them.

Of course, Huntsman's pledge of civility makes him "noble" and "serious," according to the media's lights. Actually, it makes his campaign look trivial, gimmicky, and out of touch. He is choosing "civility" over reality, a contrived style over substance. And yet, as even a sympathetic press hoping to prop him up had to admit, he isn't getting the superficial externals right either. His campaign got off to a bumpy start, with aides misspelling his name on press passes and a campaign website that gave a wrong number and wrong address for his campaign.

His strategists say he is an "authentic" person -- a "new" and "refreshing" Republican who "loves rock music" and rides motorcycles. All of this talk seems like a strained demonstration of something Huntsman wants to appear but is not. Why does he need to say that he prefers a "greasy spoon to a linen tablecloth," loves rock music and motorcycles? Because he is the son of a billionaire and a Mormon who used to be governor of Utah.

He needn't try so hard. As the Tea Party has shown, old things can be new again. The GOP is better off letting Obama be "new" and "refreshing," hype that will be hard to sustain as the economy continues to careen.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author, with Phyllis Schlafly, of the new book, No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.