Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group

The centrist Republican wants his party to be less ideologically rigid and more focused on “problem solving.”

Former Republican governor Jon Huntsman of Utah is interviewed by Juan Williams at the University of Chicago, March 7
Former Republican governor Jon Huntsman of Utah is interviewed by Juan Williams at the University of Chicago, March 7 (University of Chicago Institute of Politics)

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is forming a political action committee to help elect moderate Republicans in the United States and giving himself a platform to influence the party’s direction ahead of the next presidential election.

Huntsman, also a former China ambassador, ran unsuccessfully for the Republicans’ presidential nomination in 2011 and has since repeatedly cautioned conservatives that they risk alienating the majority of voters whose views increasingly favor Democrats.

“The very survival of the party is based on our ability to really begin to define the real issues that we confront and to begin a dialogue of problem solving around them,” he told Politico.

“Problem solving,” Huntsman insists, requires compromising with President Barack Obama and his members in the Senate which Republicans, who control the lower chamber of Congress, seem in no mood to do. Conservative lawmakers who have joined forces with Democrats to devise bipartisan solutions to gun violence, health care and immigration have faced primary challenges from ideological purists — who usually won.

Even if he was economically more right-wing than the other candidates in the last presidential primary elections, including the winner, Mitt Romney, Huntsman positioned himself as a centrist by supporting civil unions for gay couples, citizenship for children who were brought into the country illegally by their parents and warning against denying climate change. “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem,” he said in a television interview.

In New Hampshire’s primary, Huntsman appealed to moderate and young voters and placed third but neo- and social conservatives still mistrusted his noninterventionist foreign policy and sometimes liberal social views. He bowed out before the South Carolina primary in early 2012.

Huntsman’s economic policies — he cut regulations and taxes while governor of Utah and pushed vouchers to give children from poor families the opportunity to study at private institutions — is perfectly in sync with contemporary Republican rhetoric which Politico pointed out last year “is dismissive of any positive role for government that makes the ‘compassionate conservative’ ideas of George W. Bush seem like a very distant echo.”

His cultural liberalism, on the other hand, if acceptable to libertarian voters who are also typically younger, is anathema to a religious right that has set Republican social policy for a generation.

Whether Huntsman can overcome right-wing skepticism and mount a successful campaign for the 2016 election is doubtful. He told Politico that he isn’t sure if he will try. “For this year and next year, it will be more about talking about the issues that really matter, presenting them to people who are interested in hearing about them and kind of seeing where they go.” Which, in itself, could be a harbinger for another run.

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