With the Statue of Liberty and American flags as backdrops–just like how Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign–former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman formally announced his candidacy for the presidency.
Huntsman introduced himself by saying: “I’m Jon Huntsman. I’ve been a governor, a businessman, and a diplomat. I’m the husband of the love of my life, and the father of seven terrific kids. A son of great parents.”
Huntsman said he is “from the American west, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky” and also reminded everyone that, as Ambassador to China under Barack Obama’s presidency, he has “lived overseas, where the view of America from 10,000 miles away is a picture of liberty, opportunity and justice; people secure in their rights and in love with their freedom, who’ve done more good for more people than any other nation in history.”
Stylistically, Huntsman said that the country needed “leadership that knows we need more than hope, leadership that knows we need answers.”
He cited his record as Utah’s Governor, where, Huntsman said, “we cut taxes and flattened rates,” “balanced our budget,” and “worked to maintain our AAA bond rating.”
As Huntsman said, when the economic crisis hit, Utah was ready and Utah, “by many accounts,” became “the best managed state in America” and “we proved government doesn’t have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth.”
“For the first time in our history, we are about to pass down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got,” Huntsman said. “This is totally unacceptable and totally un-American.”
“And it need not, must not, will not be our permanent condition,” Huntsman added. “We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation.”
Huntsman challenged young voters and said another of America’s greatest generations is coming up and will be ready to rebuild America. Young voters may be a vital and key part of a potential Huntsman coalition and path to the nomination.
He will be attacked by conservatives for his ties to Obama, his more moderate stances on the environment and civil unions for same-sex couples and perhaps his politeness.
He also represents a professorial quality that some find irritating about Obama.
His message, though, much like Mitch Daniels’ message could have resonated, could play well with young voters, independents, and moderate Republicans.
On his more realistic foreign policy stances, particularly on Afghanistan and Libya, Huntsman seems like he’ll make the argument that building up America at home is more important, when America is in a fiscal crisis, than using those resources abroad.
Huntsman said this is not isolationism for he is not advocating disengaging from the world. Rather, he is calling for rebuilding the “core at home.”
If not, Huntsman believes “our country will fall behind the productivity of other countries. Our influence in the world will wane. Our security will grow ever more precarious. And the 21st Century will then be known as the end of the American Century. We can’t accept this, and we won’t.”
Stylistically, the event came across more like a polite gathering at a classical music recital than a standard campaign event.
And Huntsman gave all indications that he would campaign in such an above the fray style:
I don’t think you need to run down anyone’s reputation to run for President. Of course we’ll have our disagreements. I respect my fellow Republican candidates. And I respect the President. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the 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.
Whether this works for Huntsman in a cycle in which the conservative primary electorate seems to be anti-Obama and yearning for a candidate that represents bold colors as opposed to pastel colors (in rhetoric and policy) will be determined.
That said, it looks like Huntsman will have the ground support, the financial war chest for his air game, and considerable retail political skills that he will employ to be relevant during this cycle, particularly in New Hampshire and perhaps, to a lesser extent, in the crucial early primary states of South Carolina and Florida. Much of his success in those states will be dependent on his performance in New Hampshire.
To attempt to pull off his path to victory, It looks like Huntsman will be dovish on rhetoric, a hawk on fiscal issues, and realistic on social issues and foreign policy.
His job now will be to sell his brand to the Republican primary electorate.