There’s this narrative in left leaning and non-American press about Jon Huntsman’s failed candidacy where people say he failed to enthuse conservative voters because he wasn’t a populist and didn’t embrace the Tea Party. I don’t think this is right.
Mitt Romney isn’t a populist and hasn’t embraced the Tea Party and he’s probably going to be the nominee.
The candidates that are running as populists, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, are losing support with their anticapitalists, un-Tea Partyesque attacks against Mit Romney. Rick Santorum isn’t a Tea Party conservative. He’s a George W. Bush compassionate conservative who doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as “personal autonomy.”
The reason Huntsman didn’t do better is because he didn’t run as a conservative from the start. He positioned himself as a right of center candidate in the belief that the country is right of center. It is. Most Americans think of themselves as either centrist or conservative. He would have done well in a general election but you don’t run a general election campaign in the primaries.
Huntsman realized this too late. Only in the final weeks before the New Hampshire vote did he start running ads that touted his very conservative record as Utah’s governor. Indeed, he may have been the most conservative man in the race given that he implemented a flat tax in Utah, reformed health care there without a mandate, enacted a school voucher program and was staunchly pro-free trade.
The mistake, I think, Huntsman made was running as an ambassador who put “country first” and not as a former conservative governor whose state was number one in job creation during his tenure. There was a real desire for a true and trustworthy conservative among Republican primary voters. None of the supposedly right wing candidates are. Huntsman is and he could have been that candidate.
Maybe he will be in 2016 if Romney loses in November.