Politics & Policy

Huntsman: The Ultimate Conservative?

His record is filled with nuance.

Jon Huntsman, who is described in his new campaign video as the “ultimate conservative,” refuses to say he is any more or less conservative than any of the other GOP contenders. Huntsman told National Review Online, “I don’t measure it by litmus tests like that. People can look at my record and draw their own conclusions.”

He said that his record of working for Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush, along with his tax-reform and pro-life record, has established his conservative credentials.

Interestingly, Huntsman corrected me when I referred to the video: He says he is a “traditional conservative,” not the “ultimate conservative” — the label that the narrator of his video clearly enunciates and attaches to him.

Huntsman, talking to reporters on a plane returning to New Jersey after a quick stop to deliver a speech in Exeter, N.H., faced several questions about his conservative bona fides and positions.

When asked whether he would honor New York’s decision to legalize gay marriage or push for a federal ban, Huntsman said he would  “respect”  the state’s decision.

He also said he would not sign the pro-life pledge that the Susan B. Anthony List is circulating. (Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have not signed the pledge, while Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul have.) Huntsman has decided, true to his practices while running in Utah, to refuse to sign any pledges as a candidate.

“I was asked to sign a pledge when I ran for governor in 2004, and I didn’t,” he noted, in response to an earlier question about whether he’d sign a pledge about taxes. “And I got attacked because I didn’t. And then we went around and ended up cutting and reforming taxes at record levels, and I never heard anything in the aftermath.”

“My take in all of this is your record should say everything about who you are and where you are going,” he added. “I don’t need to sign a pledge.”

Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller quickly e-mailed reporters after Huntsman’s statements about the SBA List pledge: “People who rely on pledges usually don’t have a record to run on. Fortunately, Governor Huntsman — a life-long, no flip flops pro-lifer — has actually signed anti-abortion legislation into law; that’s a signature that makes a difference.”

Asked about his past support for cap-and-trade, Huntsman called it “less relevant” today because of our “economic implosion.”

“But you’ve got a lot of people who are still going to look at the best methodology going forward for dealing with emissions,” Huntsman said. “That still remains a problem.”

Talking about his 2009 remarks that the stimulus should be larger, Huntsman said that his comment should be seen in the context of the “totality” of his remarks, which included advocating for more business tax cuts and spending directed at infrastructure projects, not dollars simply passed on to the states with few restrictions.

Not every question related to Huntsman’s attempts to shift his public image from moderate to conservative. Discussing the debt ceiling, Huntsman said he was “confident” Congress would come to a deal on raising it, but cautioned that the deal should include a “fair trade-off in the form of [spending] cuts.”

On foreign policy, Huntsman indicated that he prefers a return to a less interventionist approach, arguing that the future of the U.S. depends not on what happens in “battles on the prairies of Afghanistan,” but on whether the U.S. can be economically vibrant enough to compete in this century.

In both his announcement speech and the virtually identical speech delivered today in New Hampshire, Huntsman sought to paint himself as a forward-looking politician, whose tax-cutting and business-friendly record as a governor make him the perfect fit for voters seeking a leader to jolt America’s economy back into dynamism. Whether he has a chance to take that case to general-election voters depends on his ability to persuade GOP voters in the coming weeks that he’s as authentically conservative as the rest of the field — or, yes, even more conservative. 

Katrina Trinko is a staff reporter for National Review.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...


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