Among these three, one would assume that Huntsman, who was a former Ambassador to China, would be the most diplomatic in commenting on the issues of the day.
To the contrary, Huntsman has been the clearest and most executive-like among the three in taking stands on hot-button issues.
For instance, Huntsman was the first candidate out of the gate Tuesday evening in supporting Speaker John Boehner’s plan on dealing with the debt ceiling by clearly stating, “the plan proposed by Speaker Boehner and House Republican Leadership is a good first step to deal with our national debt and is in line with the principles I have laid out since the beginning of this debate: cuts commensurate with any increase in the debt ceiling, tangible steps towards a balanced budget amendment, and no tax increases.”
Huntsman also said “President Obama should sign on to this plan instead of demanding over $1 trillion in tax hikes and a politically convenient timetable” and applauded Boehner and the Republican House Leadership “for proposing a plan that makes serious strides towards solvency and will prevent us from defaulting on our obligations.”
Huntsman then said “once this responsible plan is passed, Congress must take meaningful steps toward addressing the long-term drivers of debt with entitlement reform and a revenue-neutral tax reform plan.”
Contrast Huntsman’s clarity with Pawlenty’s and Romney’s respective murkiness.
On Tuesday, Pawlenty released a statement accusing Obama of “lecturing” rather than “leading” the country and said Obama’s speech was all “rhetoric” and “no results.” Though he has indicated he did not want to see the debt-ceiling raised, which would lead the nation to default on its obligations, Pawlenty has yet to put forth a plan of his own with conditions for avoiding default or that would allow the debt ceiling to be raised.
Similarly, Romney (@MittRomney) tweeted on Tuesday that Obama’s speech was “An historic failure of leadership from @BarackObama, not even @SenatorReid is still talking about tax increases”
On Wednesday, a Romney spokesman told National Review Online that Romney “applauds” Boehner’s plan, but one was left to wonder whether the applause was a hearty clap or a polite golf clap.
This wasn’t the first instance in which Messrs. Pawlenty and Romney gave answers that seemed cautious and poll-tested on the important issues of the day.
When the nation was debating the merits of Paul Ryan‘s entitlement reform plan, Huntsman, in an interview with ABC, came out in support of Ryan’s Medicare plan without any qualifications or conditions.
Not so for Messrs. Pawlenty and Romney.
Regarding Ryan’s plan, Pawlenty, according to an account in The Los Angeles Times, said:
“We’ll have our own plan. But … if I can’t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan’s plan, of course I would sign it,”
Likewise, Romney, according to a report in the liberal Huffington Post declined to answer if he supported Ryan’s plan by saying, “that’s the kind of speculation that is getting the cart ahead of the horse.”
Pawlenty and Romney have been stereotyped as being indecisive.
For instance, on the Sunday before CNN’s New Hampshire debate, Pawlenty went on Fox News Sunday and dubbed Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan, the plan on which Obama based ObamaCare, “ObamneyCare.” The very next day, Pawlenty refused to say “ObamneyCare” to Romney’s face and walked back those comments. It was the point when Pawlenty’s campaign really began to sputter.
Likewise, Romney’s biggest weakness is his long history of trying to take all sides on every issue, which leads voters to question his authenticity.
Romney’s and Pawlenty’s cautious statements on the debt ceiling debate only reinforce the perception that they may be indecisive, which may lead voters to ask what they stand for and what they are against.
Thus far in the 2012 cycle among the three ex-governors, Huntsman has acted most like an executive who takes firm and clear stands on the important issues of the day.
Huntsman gives off the perception of leading, while Romney and Pawlenty are giving off perceptions of cautiously following and chasing what’s safe and popular.