Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman did not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination as a liberal Republican in the tradition of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt or Wendell Willkie. He did not even run as a moderate following in the footsteps of Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford or George Herbert Walker Bush.
Huntsman ran as a conservative, who proudly noted that he attended his first Republican National Convention as a delegate pledged to Ronald Reagan in 1984.
But Huntsman did not run as a rigid ideologue who rejected science, reason and logic—especially on matters so consequential as financial regulation and international relations.
In other words, he positioned himself as what we used to call a “responsible Republican.”
Huntsman finished his campaign with the slogan “Country First”—a pointed rejection of the cut-any-corner, crush-any-foe, win-at-any-cost politics that has come to dominate the discourse at Republican gatherings.
This opting out of extremism prevented Huntsman—who, by virtue of his experience as a governor, a diplomat and a genuine business leader, was widely seen as the strongest Republican contender—from getting into serious competition for the party’s nomination. The best he could muster was third-place finish in historically moderate New Hampshire—winning two delegates there and a third from Texas.
Now, the former governor is something of a man without a party. Or, perhaps, the Republicans are a party without a mainstream.
Huntsman has announced that he would not be attending the Republican National Convention, which will be held at the end of next month in Tampa.
Politicians sometimes skip party conventions—quite a few Democrats are opting out of their September gathering in Charlotte. But former presidential candidates rarely if ever skip them. (Even in 1972, when the Democratic Party was tearing itself apart, George Wallace showed up to endorse George McGovern. And John McCain, who had no taste for George W. Bush, still went through the convention motions.) So it is significant that Huntsman is not going to Tampa.
And it is an even more significant that he is spelling out why he is skipping the convention.
Huntsman is pointed in his explanation of why he won’t bother to join in the coronation of the contender—Mitt Romney—to whom he has proffered only the most tepid of endorsements. Romney may come from a liberal Republican family, he may have served as a moderate Republican governor of Massachusetts, but he is presiding over a party that no longer has any room for moderation.
Or, Huntsman suggests, the politics of responsible Republicanism.