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CAN JON HUNTSMAN STEP INTO MITCH DANIELS' SHOES?

Maggie Gallagher

With Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels out of the race, is a Huntsman boomlet brewing? There is no shortage of voices willing to say so, including Jon Huntsman.

"I think the opening is to our advantage," the former Utah governor told Politico. "How many reform-minded governors are there left who are going to take a very fiscally conservative approach to problem-solving?"

Daniels had a strong appeal to fiscal conservatives, but his "truce talk" added a special appeal to that subset of fiscal conservatives actively motivated to stick it to social conservatives. Many mavericky McCain campaign aides are now drifting off in Huntsman's direction.

LifeNews ran a story in January under the headline "Jon Huntsman may launch pro-life Republican bid," but the only data the reporter offered to suggest Huntsman is strongly pro-life or will run a pro-life campaign is that he "supported and signed into law parental consent requirement for abortion." (Also, several pro-life staffers have joined his campaign.) Signing a parental consent law in Utah seems a thin resume on the issue.

GOP primary voters who oppose gay marriage may wonder whether they can trust a governor who (like President Obama) says he believes in marriage as one man and one woman, but who abruptly flip-flopped and promoted a civil union bill that 70 percent of Utahans opposed, just shortly before being appointed ambassador to China by Obama.

But Huntsman has even bigger problems with other factions in the GOP:

True, Huntsman has criticized Obama's stimulus package -- but only for not being large enough.

Politico asked him in 2009: "You said the stimulus wasn't large enough. In addition to the tax cuts that you mentioned, are there other measures you would have liked to see included in the bill?"

Huntsman answered: "Well, the size of about a trillion dollars was floated by Mark Zandi, who's a very respected economist. I tend to believe what he is saying about the size of the package, which didn't necessarily hit the mark in terms of size."

The same interview shows that Huntsman has a peculiar obsession with Richard Nixon (the China thing fits) and the idea that Republicans need to get more respect from the intelligentsia.

Politico asked: "Why do you think winning back the intelligentsia matters?"

Huntsman replied: "I think we've drifted a little bit from intellectual honesty in the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, for example, where they would use rigorous science to back up many of their policies, and in this case many of their environmental policies. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. We declared the war on cancer."

A local political consultant quoted in the Deseret News described Huntsman as taking a calculated risk in 2009, believing that 2012 GOP voters will be hungry for a moderate:

"Huntsman is a moderate governor who, instead of veering to the right, is blowing off the right. He's cementing his progressive credentials by supporting gay rights, backing climate change initiatives, taking the sales tax off food, liberalizing liquor laws and adopting moderate positions on immigration. It's obviously how he believes, but it's also a calculated risk that a market will exist for a moderate, progressive, pragmatic Westerner in the 2012 GOP presidential or vice-presidential sweepstakes."

Is he a conservative? Back in 2009, the Deseret News asked Huntsman the question and reported: "Huntsman declined to label himself, but instead said he is a 'moderating voice' on all kinds of issues, and all areas of his life."

Jon Huntsman doesn't like to be labeled. He doesn't even like to be labeled "Mormon."

The Time reporter who wrote a glowing profile of Huntsman was amazed at how difficult it was to get an answer to a question about his religion:

"And as for whether or not Huntsman still belongs to the Church of Latter-day Saints, I know less than I did before I asked him. ('I'm a very spiritual person,' as opposed to a religious one, he says, 'and proud of my Mormon roots.' Roots? That makes it sound as if you're not a member anymore. Are you? 'That's tough to define,' he says.)"

The reporter later followed up with different aides, two of whom said they didn't know, ask him.

Huntsman has since affirmed that he is a Mormon.

This was not a stray mistake, but a window into his soul:

The truth is Huntsman is "tough to define" in a lot of ways, and that's the way he likes it.

The question is: Will the voters of New Hampshire?

(Maggie Gallagher is the founder of the National Organization for Marriage and has been a syndicated columnist for 15 years.)


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