What would a Jon Hunstman campaign look like?
As it stands, the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries are going to be brutal – and probably crowded. With no fewer than probably ten or more candidates showing a very strong desire to at least consider the job, Republicans the nation over are looking for someone (anyone!) who can stand out from the crowd, make their mark on a tea party-infused Republican Party – and most importantly defeat Barack Obama in the general election.
Until a few weeks ago, one prominent Republican name had dropped from everyone’s radar – former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who was appointed by the Obama administration to be the US ambassador to China. Why? He can speak Mandarin, and as Obama’s chief campaign man David Plouffe said, Huntsman is the only Republican who made him “a wee bit queasy.” The White House was trying to sideline a potential threat.
The strategy seemingly worked until a Newsweek profile of the Governor indicated he may be interested in running for President in 2012 against his own boss. According to Huntsman himself, he “may have one final run left in [his] bones.”
So if Jon Huntsman did run in 2012, what would it look like? Turns out, it would probably remind a lot of people of 2008, which in hindsight isn’t exactly Republicans’ favorite year. If you take a big piece of John McCain and throw it in a pot with some Mitt Romney, the finished product is Gov. Huntsman.
When it comes to his similarities to 2008 runner-up Mitt Romney, Huntsman, like many in Utah is also Mormon and could potentially compete with Mitt for ‘Mormon money.’ Beyond that, Huntsman was a Governor like Romney was in Massachusetts – executive experience both would no doubt boast on the campaign trail should they run.
But Huntsman is for most intents and purposes much more like the winner of the 2008 nomination, John McCain. Both are regarded as centrists, although for separate reasons and issues. Huntsman says himself the key to future conservative success is to move to the center on issues such as gay rights, the environment, and immigration.
The real similarities, however, are in terms of staff and inner circle – and signal Huntsman could be very serious about a run. At least six of his most notable advisors have deep connections to John McCain and his 2008 run. This includes ad men, a finance chairman, state leaders and more. In fact, one of the closest men to the Ambassador is John Weaver, who was formerly McCain’s chief 2008 election strategist until 2007 when he was pushed out in a staff shake-up.
Perhaps most notably, Huntsman was a national co-chairman of Sen. McCain’s 2008 campaign as well, which begs the question: is Huntsman nothing more than a McCain, Jr.? Should Huntsman run, Republicans need to ask themselves if nominating a Mandarin-speaking Governor McCain is the best path to victory in 2012, especially considering how 2008 turned out.