Then he praised Obama and Clinton and went to work as the ambassador to China in the Obama administration, even when everyone knew he had national aspirations.
Now it is clear that he's running for president and he continues to talk like a moderate, reasonable conservative and, frankly, it's jarring. Take a look at this article by the Deseret News and in particular the transcript of the interview he did with CNN's John King.
When asked about the praise he has given Pres. Obama and Sec. Clinton he said:
"Well, occasionally you write thank you notes, which I think is, for a lot of people, an important tradition. I also believe in civility. I believe that we ought to have a civil discourse in this country. You're -- and you're not going to agree with people 100 percent of the time, but when they succeed and do things that are good, you can compliment them on it. I think we need to come together more on the issues that really do matter. I believe in civility and I believe in complimenting people when they do a good job."When asked about his support for gay rights he said:
"Well, I'm for civil unions. I believe in traditional marriage. But I think subordinate to that, we don't do an adequate job when it comes to equality and fairness. And I'm going to say take a look at my total record. And like every person who's been elected to office and tried to do things, some things you'll like, some things you won't. On balance, we hope you like us. But if you don't, there are always other alternatives."When asked about his support for cap-and-trade and whether climate change is human-caused he said:
"Well, I think the science of the community would -- would suggest that to be the case. And I think in a world like we have, we should be deferring to the scientific community and not the political community to make decisions that are best left in the hands of scientists. . . . So by the time that, you know, in the years to come, people want to have this conversation in a serious way, because people care about their environment, they care about air quality, I think we're going to face a whole lot more in the way of options other than just a tax on carbon and a cap and trade proposal."He also opposed sending our military to Libya. He likes the idea of privatizing Medicare, which I think is a disastrous idea, but that's not ever going to happen anyway (knock on wood) so I'll overlook it.
These are not the types of things Republican nominees for POTUS say, though. They typically stick with catchy soundbites and heated rhetoric (also, some Democrats, but we're talking about the current Republican field here). They don't praise Pres. Obama for his successes, they call him a communist, anti-American, Muslim outsider who is hell-bent on destroying our nation (note: not exaggerations at all . . . for real). They don't support civil unions and say we aren't doing a good job with equity and fairness (socialist buzzwords, people!), they say that gays are destroying traditional marriage and the very moral fiber of America and will bring our downfall as a Christian nation. They don't admit that climate change is human caused and leave the door open to cap-and-trade and talk about love for our environment, they apologize profusely for ever admitting something so awful and talk about how scientists are just in a power grab to drag us down in a socialist plot.
But here is Huntsman being a mature, thoughtful adult addressing issues seriously and acknowledging that the other side has good ideas. Which raises some conflicting feelings within me.
First, I don't consider myself particularly moderate in a lot of areas. I'm pretty well fully liberal. So your average moderate conservative isn't all that appealing to me in normal circumstances.
But second, I'm not particularly enamored with Pres. Obama, as I have written a few times before, for the reason that I'm fully liberal and the president doesn't seem interested in sticking his neck out for liberal positions. I like that he plays the adult and compromises and gets things done, but I also want him to make strong cases for liberal causes along the way, which he doesn't seem to want to do. If you're a Democratic president, you have to do both to impress me.
So, third, if you are going to have a president that is moderate and practical that isn't really interested in being a strong voice for liberal issues, what does it matter if she or he is a Democrat or Republican? And who knows, Huntsman may well be even better than Pres. Obama on some key issues, in particular civil rights. Maybe he'll support repealing the Patriot Act, ending indefinite imprisonment of detainees without a civil trial, and getting us out of wars we have no business fighting.
Finally, Jon Huntsman is Mormon. I know he's been a little evasive about his Mormonism, but he is Mormon, saying "I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon." I like how he describes the religion as "a very diverse and heterogeneous cross-section of people," which I believe is absolutely true.
Now, I'm on record as saying that I would never vote for a person just because of religion. That is a very, very poor way to choose political leaders. But at a time when the Democratic president isn't scratching my liberal itch, and when there is a very good Republican candidate who is somewhat iconoclastic and says some things I agree with on issues I think are important, I find that Huntsman being a Mormon I can be proud of adds a little extra luster. It's a point, a single point, in his favor. Tipping the scales, if I may mix my metaphors, in his direction just a bit.
But my potential enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that there used to be this other Mormon Republican ex-governor who took decidedly moderate or liberal stands on issues like gay rights and health care who all of the sudden when he wanted to become president started changing his positions and pandering to the please-don't-compare-yourselves-to-the-real-Tea-Party and became as unlikeable as possible. His name, of course, is Mitt Romney.
So, if you want me to love you, Jon Huntsman, and I'm vulnerable right now and just might be able to, don't become another Mitt Romney.