In the last week or so a lot of conservative pundits have surveyed the Republican race and asked themselves, “Has it really come to this?” With most conservative alternatives to Mitt Romney having been successively eliminated, the current anti-Romney standard-bearer is Newt Gingrich. The only problem is Gingrich’s record, which is neither clean nor reliably conservative.
As Conn Carroll of the conservative Washington Examiner puts it, “The reality of Newt as the embodiment of everything the Tea Party hates about Washington will ultimately be his undoing. So who will be next? If the conservative media, both establishment and insurgent, is to believed, it could just be Jon Huntsman.”
Huntsman is fighting a losing battle with the margin of error in most national and state polls, but in New Hampshire, where he has staked all his campaign’s hopes, he is currently polling in third place behind Gingrich and Romney.
A series of pieces from both movement and establishment conservatives have recently made the case for Huntsman. These writers run the gamut from slightly idiosyncratic intellectuals, (George Will of the Washington Post, Ross Douthat of the New York Times, Jim Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Brendan Dougherty in Business Insider) to doctrinaire activist partisans (Red State’s Erick Erickson).
The pro-Huntsman pieces generally make the same points: he governed Utah as a fiscal conservative, earning high ratings from the libertarian Cato Institute, his presidential campaign platform is fiscally conservative and he was never for abortion rights, gun control or an individual mandate to buy health insurance. (They may be unaware that, as Sarah Kliff reported in Politico, Huntsman was willing to consider an individual mandate in Utah.) An added wrinkle is that Huntsman’s realist foreign policy calls for reducing our entanglements abroad to save money. That’s a distinct contrast from the extreme hawks, except for Ron Paul, who fill out the rest of the GOP field, and it is appealing to paleoconservatives who opposed the Iraq War, such as Will.
But the conservative base is unlikely to reconsider Huntsman the way conservative intellectuals have. The reason can actually be found within some of the endorsements of him. Consider the tease on Dougherty’s profile of Huntsman in The American Conservative: “The former Utah governor speaks like a diplomat, but he’s no moderate.” Speaking like a diplomat, and sounding more moderate than you are, is an asset in a general election and during a presidency. In a Republican primary, on the other hand, it is deadly. The conservative base does not want diplomacy, it wants vituperation.