Why Give Up On Huntsman?


Many readers are scratching their heads over my endorsement of Ron Paul last week. One writes:

Let me add a few more reasons to vote for Ron Paul: If you want all federal student aid eliminated, vote Paul. If you want the Department of Energy, Commerce, Interior, Education and Housing & Urban Development eliminated, vote Paul. If you want the department of Transportation Security Administration eliminated (meaning security is the sole responsibility of private property owners), vote Paul.

You can't just ignore Paul's "nuttier policy proposals".  These proposals are Paul.  If you endorse Ron Paul, you're endorsing his proposals.  There is no way around it.

That's not how I see endorsements. They're a more complicated mixture of judging character, record, proposals, and the moment in history. Another asks:

Since when is popularity more important than a candidate's position on substantive issues? Other than his campaign strategy, what do any of these have to do with a serious critique of Huntsman? "…he simply hasn't connected with the voters";  "generates little enthusiasm"; "has run a mediocre campaign"; "started timidly"; "failed from the get-go to make a clear distinction between him and Romney"; "isn't even campaigning in Iowa"; "remains behind in New Hampshire"; and "Nationally, he is at a sad 3.2 percent, a number that has barely budged since the summer."

Should nobody ever vote for a John Anderson, Ross Perot or Ralph Nader, regardless of how strongly one agrees with their positions, simply because their poll numbers are low?

Well, no. And if Paul were not third in the race and Huntsman had not last night himself laughed about his chances in Iowa (let alone South Carolina or Florida), I might think differently. In the national polls, Huntsman – even as the field remains fluid – has just seen a third of his support melt away – from 3.2 to 2.3 percent in the last week. Yes, that's how sad it is. In New Hampshire, he has done better, but is still fourth, way behind Ron Paul. Look: if Huntsman cannot beat Paul in New Hampshire, where can he? Another reader:

Your failure to endorse Jon Huntsman felt dishonest.

Your responsibility is to endorse the GOP candidate who would be the best president. You (rightly) crucified the vice-presidential nomination of Sarah Palin because, for all her starbursts as a political candidate, she was woefully under-qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

Ron Paul deserves credit for speaking truth to power on a number of subjects, but more so in 2008 than 2012. Your endorsement speaks of important issues and turning the GOP towards away from Christianism and toward sanity, but not a word about whether Ron Paul has the capacity to be a successful president.

Your critique of Huntsman relies mainly on Beltway-based observations of the campaign horse-race. You note that his campaign hasn't crackled or connected (at least yet) with enough voters. But do you think that Jon Huntsman would be a better president than Ron Paul? I suspect that you do, and your endorsement should be based on your honest assessment of which candidate is best suited to serve the country from the Oval Office.

Actually, my critique of Huntsman also comes from watching his debate performances and Youtubes and reading his platform and listening to on-the-ground reporters as to his campaigning capabilty. And I'm not sure what a Paul presidency would be like: different, certainly – and perhaps in a way that could jolt the system back to life. It's dead now, don't you think? The strongest dissent from a reader:

You are admired for your willingness to change course and make corrections, for admitting when you have made ill-considered judgments. I respectfully submit that you should walk back your endorsement of Ron Paul and endorse Huntsman. By doing so, you will certainly damage the credibility of your future endorsements, but that may not be a bad thing. I feel like your endorsement was forced, and ill-considered. You should perhaps abandon them in the future.

Your only reason for NOT endorsing Huntsman, who seems like your ideal candidate in almost every way, is that he has no traction in the primaries. But this is an indictment of the GOP primary voters, and not of Huntsman. Huntsman has campaigned seriously, and spoken forthrightly about his positions. The reason he has not gotten off the ground has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the unhinged, deeply unserious nature of the American conservative movement at this moment in history. They are not interested in real executive experience, or character, or even electability. They only care about ideology and the angry assertion of their confused convictions. Oh, and vilifying and destroying our president. So to care at all about Huntsman’s traction among this lot makes zero sense to me.

While I agree that Paul is far more attractive than the rest of the field, that is damning with the faintest of praise. His problem is still the same – he clings to ideology divorced from reality. If he were to become president and actually governed according to his beliefs, it would be an unmitigated disaster for this country. He would eviscerate the economy and cripple government. At least Romney is just faking his radical beliefs, but Paul, Gingrich, Bachmann, Cain and Perry actually believe that what they advocate for the country makes sense.

At first glance, it may seem that Paul is the only person riding in the clown car who is a real human being – a civilized, dress-suited adult, out of place in a tiny car full of face painted fools with curly wigs. But no. Look down at Paul’s shoes: they are red and about 5 sizes too big.

I understand what you are trying to do. You see Paul as a strong tonic for what ails the right. If Huntsman can't get anywhere, then at least Paul can serve as a corrective with his authenticity, integrity, and fair-minded willingness to treat us all like adults and really debate the issues, irrespective of party dogma. I get it. I really do. And I love Paul for all those traits. But he is still deeply wrong on so many important issues and his solutions are flat-out crazy. He is unwilling to negotiate or compromise his beliefs for the sake of progress and pragmatism, and is an ideologue above all else, and THAT is what is really wrong with GOP. Just because he is a more palatable libertarian ideologue doesn't make it right. To endorse him is to continue to buy into the premise that these kinds of politicians have any place in our body politic.

I would love to sit down over beers with Paul and talk politics. It would be fun. I’d learn a lot. I'd laugh, I'd cry, I'd be deeply moved. But I don’t what him anywhere near the federal budget. The person I want making tough decisions about what to cut is the only guy in the race with experience doing it: Huntsman. The only person I want navigating the dangerous and murky waters of our relationship with China is the one person with experience doing it: Huntsman.

What we need is for influential people like yourself to stand and speak up for the person most fit to take the job. You know it’s Huntsman. You know it. So why play games and endorse Paul, simply so you can try and fix a group of people who don’t want to be fixed? The tea-partiers and radio talk-show fans know Paul, they have listened to his arguments and critiques for well over a decade, and they still would rather vote for complete jokes like Gingrich, Cain, Perry or Bachmann. You lone endorsement has no more chance of pushing Paul over this finish line than it does Huntsman. But if you endorse Huntsman you can sleep at night knowing you didn’t try to help elect someone like Paul who would run this country into the ground.

In fact, I think that if you truly believed Paul had a shot, you wouldn't endorse him. You know it would be reckless for him to be president. So let's start putting folks like Paul where they belong – beyond consideration. Only then will this country grow up. No more ideologues, period.

Your endorsement of Paul seems like an overreaction born of frustration with the right. And that's not a good reason to endorse someone. I hope you take it back.

I think my reader's critique of Paul's rigid ideology is by far the most penetrating, and reveals the biggest weakness in my argument. I guess the best explanation I can give of backing such an ideologue, rather than a more pragmatic figure like Huntsman, is that I believe the GOP needs re-making, especially on foreign policy. I want that debate opened wider still – and, as someone almost certainly in Obama's camp this fall, this is my priority. I also want a good and open debate about the role of government, and, whatever else you think of him, Paul is a tonic in that respect. A vote for him this year is like a vote for Goldwater in 1964. It clarifies and revives. I take back not a tittle.

(Photo: Republican Presidential Candidates Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman take part in a Lincoln-Douglas style debate at Saint Anselm College on December 12, 2011 in Manchester, New Hampshire. By Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images)