COLUMN: Jon Huntsman and the future of the GOP



Tuesday’s election has finally come and gone, leaving behind a blissful lack of candidate ads. Now, when commercials come on, we can set aside all our political anxieties and just watch Greg Jennings sell us Old Spice in peace.

The election isn’t over for Republicans, though, who are still scratching their heads about how they could have marketed Mitt Romney more effectively.

Romney’s run was characterized by a promising VP pick and strong economic arguments against government spending, but in the end, he lost me (and I’d imagine quite a few other constituents) with his arch-conservative social ideas and a blunted, black-and-white approach to foreign policy.

So for me and many other Americans, the problem wasn’t marketing. In order to have won the election, the GOP would have needed to field a different candidate with a significantly more moderate platform.

Yes, I voted Obama. But this past August, there were any number of Republican contenders ready to accept the nomination that would have made my decision more complicated.

Take Jon Huntsman: the governor of Utah for more than four and a half years. Huntsman also served stints as the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore and China in the early 1990s and late 2000s, respectively. Besides being fluent in Mandarin, his governorship saw the highest contemporaneous job growth rate in the country. The man was electable.

And if that isn’t enough, Newsweek reported in 2011 that Huntsman was ready after the 2008 election to tweak party platforms to reach a younger base. The key changes: a more centrist Republican approach on “immigration, gay rights and the environment.”

When we look at how close Florida and Ohio were this year, it becomes arguable that with a more compromised and centrist approach — the kind Huntsman advocated for in 2008 — a conservative candidate could have won either. By all accounts, the country might have really benefited from that budgetary policy.  If it had been Huntsman himself, the country might have benefited from all that experience in Singapore and Beijing, too.

We got Romney, anyway.

So yes, I voted for Obama. And given Huntsman's less than savory approach to gay rights, even if it is more centrist, I probably would have voted against him. But someday, I’d love to vote for Republican fiscal restraint, if the GOP's social policy heads in the direction Jon Huntsman would take it.

Asking the GOP to adopt Democratic approaches to social policy is certainly a pipe-dream. But given last week’s performance, it’s incumbent upon the GOP to take note and re-evaluate their platform somehow; otherwise, voters might continue to miss out on a balanced budget, and a choice worth making, for many elections to come.


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