Jon Huntsman Looks to Make a First Impression

When editor Erick Erickson, perhaps the most virulent anti-Jon Huntsman conservative there is, wrote last week that he is willing to give Huntsman’s candidacy a second look because of his grave concerns about front-runner Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials and electability, the political world did a collective double take.

While Erickson’s words were nowhere near an endorsement, they represent the discontent Republicans have with the current field of candidates and general distrust of Romney’s conservatism and purported electability.

And with Herman Cain’s staff’s bungling his response to allegations of past “inappropriate behavior” and Rick Perry’s debate blunders, punctuated by his “oops” heard around the world, Jon Huntsman–the candidate, his potential, and his conservative record as Utah’s governor–may be primed for one final consideration.

If you ask Huntsman, he is still looking to be afforded the opportunity to make a first impression.

“We never got a legitimate first look,” Huntsman told HUMAN EVENTS.

Huntsman said his ideas and conservative record as Governor of Utah did not get initial consideration “in part because I had worked for a Democrat,” in reference to his having served as President Obama’s Ambassador to China.

With the next two debates focused on foreign policy matters (CBS/National Journal will have a debate on Saturday in South Carolina and CNN/AEI/Heritage will have a debate on November 22 in Washington, D.C.) now is Huntsman’s last, best chance to become relevant.

Asked if he had any regrets about starting off his campaign by giving interviews to mainstream media outlets conservatives distrust (that being the main reason why conservatives never gave his record a serious look), Huntsman said that while one “can’t have too many regrets in this business … you have to provide course corrections from time to time … the groups that you appear before and the kind of interviews that you do,” which could be read to be an implicit acknowledgement that his campaign’s roll-out was not as effective as it could have been.

Through all of his campaign’s twists and turns, though, Huntsman’s message has not changed.

“In terms of my overall message, it is a result of my own history as a public servant and an amalgamation of what I’ve done in the area of policy,” Huntsman said. “That will never change nor should it–that is part of the whole authenticity thing we carry with us.”

Huntsman said he decided to run for president this cycle because “this is the most important election cycle of my lifetime” and for someone to not step up when the country is mired in debt, which Huntsman says is a national security crisis (he says one need only look at Italy and Greece to see what could be a coming attraction for the United States), and stand up and add to the debate is “unpatriotic” and, “I’m not an unpatriotic person.”

Huntsman says being consistent and authentic is important in an age when people are losing faith in institutions from Washington to Wall Street.  The former Utah Governor pointed to Ronald Reagan, for whom he worked, who had the trust of the American people, regardless of how they felt about him, because they knew where Reagan stood and could take his words to the bank.

Going back to the broad themes he stressed in his kick-off speech, Huntsman is correct about how consistent his message has been.

When he entered the race, Huntsman said, “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.”

Huntsman then said that, “We must make broad and bold changes to our tax code and regulatory policies” to strengthen the country’s core at home in order to strengthen the country’s leverage abroad.

Since then, Huntsman has proposed an economic plan, which calls for three rates of 8, 14, and 23 percent, a lowering of the corporate income tax to 25 percent along with the elimination of all deductions and loopholes to reduce the power of special interests who game the system. His plan has been cited by the Wall Street Journal as the best economic proposal offered by any of the presidential candidates and referred to as the most pro-growth proposal ever offered by a presidential candidate.

And Huntsman cited his record as Utah’s governor as evidence that he could revive the country’s economy with his pro-growth policies.

“You see, we proved that government doesn’t have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth,” Huntsman said. “It’s not that we wish to disengage from the world, don’t get me wrong, but rather that we believe the best long-term national security strategy is rebuilding our core here at home.”

Today, Huntsman still says, “I want to take some of the same concepts I was able to implement in Utah and apply them nationally.”

“We delivered a flat tax, no one else has done that,” Huntsman said. “We created the most business friendly environment in the country, according to Forbes.”

The list goes on: Vouchers, a balanced budget, a tripling of Utah’s rainy day fund that prepared the state in case of an economic downturn, a Triple-A bond rating, health care reform without mandates.

And of course, Huntsman also said that, “We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don’t think you need to run down someone’s reputation in order to run for the Office of President.”

When asked if he was too nice to run in this cycle, Huntsman emphatically said, “absolutely not.”

Whether one likes Huntsman, his message has stayed the same largely because his authenticity is real, but with less than two months before the nominating contests begin, Huntsman must contrast himself more forcefully with Romney and highlight the themes–his conservative record of governance, how his economic proposals will strengthen the country’s economy to give it more leverage abroad, and his ability to bring Republicans, independents, and disaffected Democrats together to defeat Obama–that made him such an appealing candidate on paper.

“I was consistently a conservative and Governor Romney was not,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman’s best argument is to highlight how he is more electable and conservative than Romney.

Time is running out, though, and Huntsman has to start surging soon. The next two debates offer him the best opportunity to gain the traction that has eluded him.