Where is Huntsman’s Passion?

July 29th, 2011 at 8:45 am David Frum | 23 Comments |

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It seemed a weirdly fitting protest.

A single truck pulled an electronic billboard around and around the block. The billboard denounced Republicans for Environmental Protection – and their guest speaker, Gov. Jon Huntsman – as a “RINO stampede.” The truck promoted a group called JunkScience.com, run by a curious character called Steven Milloy.

The billboard’s message did not pack much punch, but the deliberate waste of gasoline? Now, that was calculated to annoy.

Inside the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency, a couple hundred supporters and friends of the group sat down to dinner and a speech of welcome by Rob Sisson, president of REP; followed by a short and witty award acceptance by Rep. Dave Reichert (R., Washington); and then a keynote by Gov. Huntsman.

Huntsman covered three main topics: the burden of federal debt (he stressed his support for the Boehner plan), the slowdown of economic growth under President Obama (“the president is a good man, but on the most important challenge of our time, he has failed us”), and the urgency of including environmental and energy issues in a modern Republicanism.

Huntsman recalled that he had recently departed the most polluted city on earth: Beijing. On bad days, he said, it’s literally impossible to see across Beijing’s wide streets. The whole planet, he said, lives downstream from China’s pollution. You are breathing it now.

Good stuff, but Huntsman missed (or so it seemed to me) a chance to infuse that observation with emotional power – and a to draw a distinction between himself and his competitors for the GOP nomination.

A few weeks ago, I heard radio host Mark Levin launch into one of his famous mad-delicatessen-owner tirades against the intrusiveness of the federal government. Among Levin’s complaints: the federal government even dictates what children’s pajamas can be made of!

I thought: can anyone seriously regard non-flammable children’s pajamas as an expression of government over-reach? I doubt it. But some people in today’s GOP do talk that way. Huntsman could draw on his China experience to talk eloquently about what it is that we need government to do as well as what we need it not to do. As ambassador, Huntsman daily confronted the economic and human waste and wreckage caused by China’s disregard of the most minimal standards of social protection: melamine in the milk, high-speed trains that crash and kill, mangled workers, deformed babies.

Huntsman is not polling well in the GOP primaries. Yet he is lucid and knowledgeable, and on the issues surely closer to most Republicans than Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. With a little more metaphorical gasoline in his tank – maybe some of the gas wasted by the JunkScience man – he could still be going places.

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23 Comments so far ↓

  • Scritor

    The only way Huntsman can right the party is if he somehow is anointed the candidate, bypassing the primary process. Otherwise, he’s just a guy the base doesn’t care about, and moderates and erstwhile liberal Republicans have much less say, even if he’s the most reasonable, centrist opponent to Obama.

  • TAZ

    People come to the Circus to see the fat lady, the fire eater, the lion tamer, and guy that gets shot from the cannon……. NOT the accountant balancing the books, keeping the show going!

    If he is going to get noticed, he will have to start the tent on fire!

    • lilmanny

      Amen. Amen. Amen! The instant Sister Sarah starting swinging from the eaves and became more interesting than the ringmaster this became a circus, not a business.

  • TerryF98

    In a party where lunacy has been elevated to an art form this guy is just too bland and boring.

    He needs some clown shoes and a red nose for a start.

  • talkradiosucks.com

    It’s obvious to even a casual observer that Huntsman cannot possibly win the nomination in this environment *and* that he knows it.

    Huntsman is like a little kid standing in a thunderstorm with a tiny umbrella. Complaining about his lack of passion is like wondering why he doesn’t try to build a fire.

  • D Furlano

    Who cares about Huntsman – put up a article on the depressing GDP numbers. I want to know who didn’t expect this to happen?

  • drdredel

    If Huntsman wants to get noticed, he should switch to the blue ticket and run against Obama! I think he’d actually have a MUCH better chance of winning. I voted for Obama (obviously) and have absolutely no choice but to vote for him again, even though I really don’t want to! I’m sorely disappointed in Obama, and while I’m not overly impressed with Huntsman, I think he may win me over, if he wants to.

    However, he’s never going to sell his mild mannered, non-crazy to the people that are seriously considering his current opposition!

  • balconesfault

    The real problem for Huntsman is that he’s selling incremental differences from Obama … and that’s not going to motivate anyone aside from wonks like Frum who really don’t have a fundamental problem with Obama outside of him being a Democrat.

    Huntsman’s pitch against Obama is “sure he inherited the worst economic situation in almost a century, but he didn’t fix it all in 2 years, so it’s time change horses”. The right wing base is going to be pissed at him for acknowledging reality (just how bad the economy was that Obama inherited, that Obama isn’t a dangeous socialist) … and moderates will be largely uninspired (what’s the upside to us in such a marginal change?)

    Frankly, Huntsman’s support of the Boehner plan kind of disappoints, if not disgusts me. If Huntsman really wanted to be taken as a serious voice right now, he should be demanding that his GOP collegues just pass a damn 18 month extension of the debt ceiling so that the economy could have some certainty while it’s trying to get started up again. If he doesn’t realize just how bad it is for the economy to just tee up another debt ceiling battle in 8 months or so … then he’s not really someone we should be regarding as a particularly sensible moderate alternative.

    At best, his expressed support for the Boehner plan is a ploy that shows he lacks the courage to stand up to the far right and tell them what America really needs to do. At worst, it’s indicative of him being a Bush-level idiot on economic issues. Neither is a great selling point.

  • PracticalGirl

    A GOP Presidential candidate, within the prism of today’s rabidly anti-anything-good-for-the-Earth base says

    “The whole planet, he said, lives downstream from China’s pollution. You are breathing it now”

    and you ask where Huntsman passion is? Compared to his base and all his competitors, he’s a freaking radical. He just told you where his passion is- bringing the GOP to the grown-ups table.

    There’s plenty of empty-headed passionate lunatics in the field who are saying a whole lot of nothing very excitedly. I’m surprised, Frum, that you would fall into the trap of perpetuating the demand that all your GOP leaders act/sound like fire-breathing Pentecostal ministers.

  • Holmes

    Again Frum stubbornly refuses to face the facts. He says:

    “Huntsman is not polling well in the GOP primaries. Yet he is lucid and knowledgeable, and on the issues surely closer to most Republicans than Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann.”

    Huntsman is not “surely closer.” Not by a long-shot. Most Republicans (about 70 percent) have swallowed the Rush&Co-concocted KoolAid — i.e, global warming is a myth, regulations to protect public health and safety are pernicious intrusions on freedom, debt default might be a positive event, and Obama-Pelosi-Reid-Clinton are the four horses of the Apocalypse.

    Frum wants his party to be better than it is so that he can feel better about himself. And that’s fine. Not fine are writings that pretend that dreams are real. That’s harmful.

  • medinnus

    Yes, Huntsman is, to put it politely, a long shot. But he still gets my money, and my vote in the primary; if the sane don’t support him over batshit crazy, then they deserve the GOP they get.

  • Graychin

    Excellent comments by all.

    Only here would we find “Huntsman” and “passion” in the same headline. He doesn’t have any. Even on climate change, the issue that distinguishes him the most from the lunatics seeking the GOP nomination, he hasn’t proposed any action. But they say that the first step to solving a problem is to recognize that there IS a problem – so I’ll give him that.

    Poor Huntsman’s campaign has already peaked. He might have a chance in 2016 if he runs as a Democrat.

    Balconesfault said: “…wonks like Frum who really don’t have a fundamental problem with Obama outside of him being a Democrat.” Bingo!

  • jjv

    I love the phrase “mad delicatestan owner tirades.”

  • Carney

    Did he endorse a mandate that all new gasoline cars sold in America be fully flex-fueled, able to run equally easily on any alcohol fuel as on gasoline?

    Without that, any talk of cutting smog, or energy independence, is just more gasbaggery of the ineffective, time wasting variety that has accomplished nothing in the nearly 40 years since the 1973 Arab oil embargo first woke us up to the need to get off oil.

    Any other policy, if discussed without a flex fuel mandate, in fact diverts political momentum and mindshare from this unique, critical, and indispensable step.

    Back the Open Fuel Standards Act! (H.R. 1687).

    See this short video about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0O2YZwSkgM You want passion? This speech has it!

    And this fascinating in-depth talk before Google employees: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NLRuGUPkyh4

  • Hunter01

    Holmes put it exactly right. Frum is overflowing with nonsense. His denial of Republican reality — i.e., that most of the Republican electorate rejects his views outright — is an expression of internal fearfulness. The same is true for David Brooks, George Wills, Peggy Noonan, and so on.

    This collective delusion among moderate Conservative pundits only encourages the blackmail of the American political system by the crackers on the extreme right. If we are all Republicans, the pundits believe, then those House Republicans can’t be so bad … can they?

  • Russnet

    I would keep an eye on Huntsman.

  • think4yourself

    If I were to vote Republican (I’m not), Huntsman would be the candidate I’d most likely consider. I don’t know all of his positions or all of his record, but a GOP guy who works in a Democratic administration, a moderate who manages to be a reasonably well-liked Governor in a conservative state, all that speaks to me.

    All I can think of is he is doing the GOP thing (ala Romney and McCain) of setting up his run for 2016. While he won’t have to run against Obama then (how many GOP are hoping they can run against an aging Joe Biden?), he is likely to have formidable competition from the likes of Christie, Rubio, Jeb Bush, Jindal, Nikki Haley or others.

    Would I vote for someone like Huntsman in 2016? That would depend on if the GOP is still controlled by the crazies. It would be tough to imagine that in one presidential cycle they could earn my trust. Their fringe is much more outrageous than the Dems. Too bad.

  • Emma

    If the economy goes into a tailspin over the debt limit crisis, Frum will be left asking himself “Could I have used my voice to speak up against this insanity?” The answer will be “yes.” Frum never took a decisive stand. Frum never stopped hedging his comments. Frum never confronted the evil before him.

    The one lesson in life that Frum has taken to heart came by way of Mel Brooks — “If you run away you live to run away another day.”

    • Anonne

      Ah, but to fully call for a cessation of the nonsense would validate the RINO status. Reality has a liberal bias, you know!

  • Moderate

    The tragedy of Huntsman’s “RINO” label is that he is fairly damn conservative in substance. What makes him seem moderate is his non-confrontational demeanor and some centrist stances on social issues.

  • Hunter01

    I concur with Emma. We are watching live coverage of moderate Republican cowardice.