Huntsman's Challenge Unnerves Dems

Obama political adviser David Axelrod chartered new waters last Sunday, abandoning his typical political stoicism and unleashing his most scathing criticism against any GOP candidate to date.

Axelrod was referring to Jon Huntsman, who has served in the administrations of the last four presidents and is a former ambassador to China for President Barack Obama. On CNN’s State of the Union with Candy Crowley, Axelrod said, “I think that what has changed is not his view of the economy, but his view of his own chances to perhaps win the nomination." He added that the candidate’s description of Obama's administration as a "failed presidency” was directly “in conflict with what he communicated to us in 2009."

The ferocious nature of Axelrod’s remarks reflect a deep-seated Democratic fear of Huntsman’s potential. While Axelrod launched conventional attacks against more renowned Republican candidates such as Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty in the interview, he resorted to character-based criticism against Huntsman, a tactic Obama’s chief political architect rarely uses.

I believe the chances of Huntsman’s emergence as the GOP’s nominee are exceedingly slim, and the political obstacles in his way are nearly insurmountable, with the greatest opposition to Huntsman’s political ascendance coming from right-wing Republican base. As a Mormon and motorcycle-happy “maverick” fluent in Mandarin, Huntsman is running against other candidates who have pledged to repeal the inaccurately labeled “Obamacare,” to defund Planned Parenthood, and to not raise taxes even as America’s inequality gap has widened to unprecedented levels. His primary opponents collectively yearn to ratchet back government economic influence to its lowest level since Herbert Hoover. 

Yet, Huntsman is an anachronism, a Republican subscribing to the decades-old, more pragmatic conservative brand even as other candidates adhere to party dogma as if the Tea Party statute is America’s true constitution. He also stands as the only Republican candidate who prefers to hold a genuine debate over America’s future rather than a plebiscite on Obama’s moral makeup. In his words, he and Obama “have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love … But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better president, not who’s the better American.” 

Huntsman’s political liabilities, at least during the primary season, are numerous and diverse. Some 22% of Americans (the number likely higher among Republicans) will not vote for him solely because he’s a Mormon. He is pro-civil union and seems to be the only Republican unwilling to deny that climate change is, in fact, a reality. 

If Huntsman were to attain the GOP nomination, he might be able to ride his moderate political agenda all the way to the White House. In nearly a Reaganesque fashion, Huntsman has the potential capabilities to transcend the ideological gap between the Hawkish, security-oriented Republicans, and the religious Right, many of whom have flocked in disturbingly large numbers towards the Tea Party in recent years. 

Huntsman has adopted a political platform which may come to hold hypnotic sway over the “Middle 20,” the approximate one-fifth of Americans who identify with neither party, the constituents who many believe will determine the outcome of the 2012 elections. 

And, unlike nearly all the other viable “mainstream” Republican candidates, he has a successful economic track record as governor of Utah, even leaving with an approval rating of above 80% in 2008. 

Finally, having personally met and conversed with Huntsman at a political gathering in Hanover, N.H., even I, who would never vote for the man, cannot deny that the man walks, talks, acts, and even smells like a president. Although he had not yet declared his candidacy at this event in May in Hanover, New Hampshire, the man exuded an aura that is uniquely presidential.

Axelrod’s political maneuvering against Huntsman yet again sheds light on his brilliance as a political strategist. Axelrod has already come to terms with what many across this nation have yet to realize. Jon Huntsman is a political force to be reckoned with.

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