He may be lagging in the polls, but on Tuesday night, Jon Huntsman, oozing confidence, wowed at least one group beyond New Hampshire moderates: Beltway college students.
After appearing on Fox News’ Special Report, the former garage band pianist and motocross rider walked on stage at George Washington University to fanatical cheers (really!) and “I love you!” cries from coeds.
But they weren’t cheering that Fox News hit, to be sure. Fresh from getting the “Colbert bump,” one night earlier, Huntsman, as ever, was breezy, cheerful, and hopeful. These attendees, at least, mostly fresh-faced College Republicans, appreciated the persona.
Indeed, the former Utah governor, sensing a friendly college crowd, wagged his finger at lawmakers across town with fervor, casting himself as a political outsider in spite of his many past federal posts.
“Being divided as Americans is not natural,” he said. “It’s un-American. It’s not consistent with who we are as blue-sky optimists; we’re problem-solving people,” Huntsman said. “We confront an issue, we confront a challenge, we find solutions, and we move on.”
Huntsman added that fiscal issues, perhaps more than others, will enable Republicans to make a play for the youth vote next year.
“We are about to pass down the greatest nation that ever was to your generation. For the first time, it’s less good, less productive, less competitive and more divided,” he said. “Regardless of where you come from politically, if that doesn’t motivate you enough to get out and learn the issues . . . the debt, folks, it’s coming your way.”
And on taxes, Huntsman took care to talk about his own flat-tax ideas on the day Rick Perry unveiled his plan.
“[The tax code] is outdated, dilapidated and anachronistic,” he said. His plan includes phasing out loopholes and deductions and creating separate, simplified individual brackets that will run at 8, 14 and 23 percent.
But it was Huntsman, not his policies that made these students swoon. “I’ve lived overseas four times, as I mentioned earlier,” he said. “You’re not going to find any other candidate who has spent any time overseas.”
“Maybe, you know, a trip here or there,” he conceded, but nothing like being U.S. ambassador to China. Before study-abroad aficionados, this clicked. Whether it can connect in Des Moines or Charleston, of course, is another question.