Huntsman: “Only Center-Right Candidate”

The former ambassador to China tries to appeal to the “sensible middle ground.”

Former China ambassador Jon Huntsman positioned himself as the only reasonable and center-right candidate in the Republican presidential race this weekend. “Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground,” Huntsman said. “This is a center-right country. I am a center-right candidate.”

Whereas most Republicans in the nomination contest try to appeal to conservative primary voters, Huntsman, who is more centrist on social issues and a foreign policy realist, is attempting to lure independents with his claim that he is among few electable candidates in the present field.

“President Obama is too far to the left. We’ve got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right. And we have zero substance,” he told ABC’s This Week on Sunday. The president is “out of ideas” on the economy,” according to Huntsman, and most Republicans don’t have any serious ideas. “Every single one of them would have allowed this country to default,” he pointed out, referring to their opposition to a bipartisan agreement that raised the nation’s debt ceiling this month. Huntsman was the only candidate who said he would have signed a bill that extended the federal government’s borrowing authority by more than $2 trillion.

The former Utah governor specifically took aim at fellow presidential contenders Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann for statements they made about gas prices and global warming. He warned that their “extreme” positions might make them “unelectable” in a race against Barack Obama in 2012.

“The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem,” Huntsman told ABC’s This Week before pointing out that he agreed with the vast majority of scientists who believe that human activity contributes to climate change. Should the Republican presidential candidate contest that view, “I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science,” he added, “and therefore, in a losing position.”

Governor Rick Perry of Texas described global warming as “a scientific theory that has not been proven” in New Hampshire last week. He suggested that scientists had “manipulated data” in order to extract funding for their research.

Huntsman also questioned Michele Bachmann’s claim that she could reduce gas prices to below $2 a gallon, a level not seen since early 2009. “I just don’t know what world that comment would come from,” Huntsman said, calling the claim “completely unrealistic.” Gasoline prices “just aren’t going to rebound like that.” He left the door open to running as Bachmann’s vice presidential candidate though. “If you love this country, you serve this country,” he told CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight on Monday.

Jon Huntsman probably appeals to the same primary voters that Mitt Romney hopes to win. Both are business conservatives, not culture warriors, but Huntsman touted his record as a pro-growth governor of Utah whereas Massachusetts lacked behind many other states during Romney’s tenure there. “When it comes to coming up against Barack Obama in an election cycle that is going to be 100 percent about expanding the economy and creating jobs, being 47th as job creator ain’t gonna cut it.”

Asked what he would do to boost growth, Huntsman cited tax reform and ending the Obama Administration’s regulation spree. While phasing out loopholes and deductions, Huntsman said he could lower America’s corporate tax rate which is the highest among industrialized nations. “Number two, we’ve got to get the regulatory money off our back,” he told ABC.

People aren’t putting money into the marketplace. They’re not hiring because there’s so much uncertainty and confusion about where this economy is going.

As governor, Huntsman cut the state income tax to help fuel business investment which, by 2007, had brought Utah’s jobless rate down to an unprecedented 2.3 percent. The resulting surge in revenue allowed the state to avoid painful spending cuts but make investments instead which boosted Huntsman’s approval rating above 90 percent.

President Obama likes to talk about investing in education and infrastructure as well to “win the future” but according to Huntsman, he has “failed” in his most important job which was to “fix the economy.”

Apparently out of sync with the Tea Party populism of his party, Huntsman’s sensible rhetoric and calm demeanor might appeal to independent and moderate voters who are not enthused by Mitt Romney. That is why his campaign has chosen not to compete in Iowa but focus on the early primary state of New Hampshire instead. “In New Hampshire, they pick presidents,” he said on This Week. “I know they pick something else in Iowa.”

Huntsman also hopes to perform well in Nevada and Florida which will be next in line with their primaries. If he performs credibly but doesn’t manage to win in any of the early nominating contests, he will at least have enhanced his reputation and positioned himself for a run in 2016.