Jon Huntsman for President?
Friday afternoon, Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman held an appearance at the Marriott in West Palm Beach.
Later that day it would be announced that he was pulling resources from the state to concentrate his push in New Hampshire, but at the reception he listed his ties to the state (his national campaign headquarters is in Orlando) and his confidence of winning here. Huntsman has an impressive resume, a track record of accomplishment and popularity as Governor of Utah, and an expert insider’s grasp of the issues in both the economic and foreign policy spheres. The mainstream media likes him, he has done well in two debates, and locally he is supported by Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff (who notably was an early supporter of John McCain when his campaign had faltered). So why is he polling nationally at only 1% or so? We attended the event in hopes of answering that question.
John Huntsman in West Palm Beach
First some background. Iris and I are activists – we pick a candidate, make a committment, and work very hard to get that person elected. In the 2008 cycle, we attended Presidency 4 – the GOP event / debate in Orlando, and made our decision after seeing the candidates up close and personal. Our interests diverged – Iris went to work for Romney and I joined the Giuliani campaign. Neither of us were drawn to John McCain, although his campaign had reached a low point and he had a very low profile in Orlando that year. This time around we will also make our choices after Presidency 5.
So what characteristics make for a good president and how do you tell if a candidate has the right combination?
Intelligence is important, so is knowledge of public policy and world events. Holding a worldview that is relatively in sync with your own is a given. Executive experience, particularly in leading large organizations (public or private) is an advantage for success. Self confidence and the ability to make a decision and move on when the data may be murky or incomplete is necessary, along with the humility to admit if you are wrong and change course when appropriate. All these things can be gleaned from resumes, news reports, televised debates and media interviews, and it is surely necessary to evaluate all these in making an informed choice.
An argument can be made however, that most or all of the current GOP field can qualify (particularly those who were governors or CEOs) on these bases, and all would be a superior choice to Barack Obama (particularly in the “worldview” area).
The differentiator is “leadership presence”, and this is were I find Jon Huntsman coming up short.
An effective leader makes a “connection” with those he leads, that is at the same time intellectual and rational as well as visceral and intuitive. Ronald Reagan (the “Great Communicator”) had it. So did Bill Clinton (“I feel your pain”). George W. Bush had it after 9-11. Barack Obama had it during the campaign, but squandered it in the first six months with his total disregard of the wishes and feelings of half the country. Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush didn’t have much of it.
A President has to make choices, sometimes difficult ones, and convince you that he is right so you will support those decisions. We see that somewhat in Rick Perry sticking to “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme” and Mitt Romney’s insistence that Romneycare was right for Massachusetts.
As Jon Huntsman answered questions at the event, he seemed to adopt both sides of the argument. Given the opportunity to differentiate himself from the current President on foreign policy (Arab Spring, military deployments, China), or the economy (energy policy, job creation) – he opted instead to give a nuanced analysis of the area without choosing any policy options other than the standard “repeal Obamacare and Dodd/Frank”. His energy policy prescription (get everyone around a table to agree) ignored the inherent contradiction in developing domestic energy sources yet still embracing global climate change and the need to regulate carbon emissions. I was left with the feeling that Jon is vaguely conservative, yet could not tell how he would act in any specific situation.
The other aspect of the “connection” is how a candidate interacts with an audience. Having seen both Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann up close, it is clear that they are comfortable working a room and they both have a knack for retail politics. Each can make a one on one connection with you, then move on and do the same to everyone they encounter in the room. It is instinctive and natural. I do not get this vibe from Jon Huntsman.
I’m sure Jon Huntsman was an excellent Utah Governor, Ambassador and Trade Representative under multiple Presidents. He would make an excellent Secretary of State. But carrying the whole ticket against Barack Obama? Not so much.