It would be a mistake to count moderate Republican Jon Huntsman out for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, and even more of a mistake if Republicans don’t give him serious consideration.
To start with the candidate himself, you can’t ignore the X-Factor. Huntsman has it. It's more of a calm charisma than the chummy feel you get with Huckabee, head and shoulders above McCain’s gruffness and much more genuine-feeling than Romney. Add his executive experience as the governor of a deep red state and successful business background, and he’ll be looking pretty good to fiscally-focused Republicans that don’t care as much about social issues.
Huntsman’s family is widely considered to be super-connected within the conservative establishment. If this enables him to out-fundraise his opponents early, and snag some early endorsements, it could be a big boost. If he’s seen as the top moderate in the race, and as the best chance to peel away enough independents to take Obama down in the general, you can expect some mainstream conservatives to move his direction on electability.
The trick will be getting those voters to the primaries and caucuses in enough numbers to at least keep him in the game, and use the open primary states, where independents can vote for him without changing registration, to put him over the top. With no contest going on for the left or moderate independents, those states will be much more likely to make their voices heard for him.
He has some serious problems though. He is going to have to find a way to explain to his party why he took the job with Obama, but this could be made into an advantage if he’s smart, especially for those tired of Washington rancor. His views on civil unions, being Mormon, his statements in support of the stimulus and environmental legislation— these are all problems in a Republican primary, but he’s more conservative on fiscal issues, education, gun rights and is pro-life.
He’s not going to get the ideologically pure base anyway, so the points that peg him as a staunch moderate might not be as much of a hindrance as people think, if (and this is a big if) there are at least two major candidates splitting the base.
His main worry should be if the more conservative segment of the GOP base coalesces around someone. McCain was able to weather attacks from the right wing of his party, but will Rush and company be more strategic this time around and coalesce behind someone? Or perhaps will the effect of No Labels and the general pushback against partisan extremism grow and be able to help mitigate these far-right forces?
Regardless, some in the party are sure to see the writing on the wall, that someone who can peel independents off of Obama will have the best shot. They want a win badly, and for the mainstream conservative who is no ideological purist, along with more practical minded establishment types, this is a compelling argument.
John Avlon aptly said in a recent CNN segment that he thinks Huntsman is the “first candidate that the White House is genuinely concerned about." They should be. Unlike Obama’s recent rhetorical moderate epiphany, Huntsman has been walking the walk for years. He’s no true centrist by any means, but he’s the only Republican candidate who is clearly going to run that I, along with most of swing voters, am likely to seriously considering voting for. The GOP would do well not to ignore this.
Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates. He is currently collaborating with other centrist independent and moderate bloggers on a news aggregation and social networking site, and is always looking for ways to help the independent groundswell as more and more people become disaffected with the two major parties.