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.


5 Responses to “Jon Huntsman for President?”
  1. Iris Iris says:

    In our corporate lives, we both went to a lot of management training. I worked as an assistant or reported in management, directly to several executives. Mr. Huntsman clearly had outstanding executive skills. As Fred is describing above – there is a ‘people power’ part of a natural (or even ‘made’) leader that makes those around them WANT to be part of their team, to follow them, to work for them.

    How one reacts to one’s situation demonstrates something about leadership style. The reception had a very small turnout – about 30 folks including staff. Stretch that perhaps a little and it includes the cameramen. Instead of a formal discussion behind a podium – he could have actually introduced himself personally to everyone there and had a conversation in the same time he allocated to giving his stump speech. He could have introduced his wife at the beginning, rather than as an aside. I felt he was somewhat talking at us – not to us. Mr. Huntsman spoke about tackling New Hampshire and the importance of retails politics there (my words not his). It will be interesting to see how well he does in NH.

    What came across most is that he is a gifted diplomat with somewhat inscrutable positions, stating that what he brought to the table was that he was the most ‘electable’. His nuanced answers reflected that as well. Throughout, I was thinking ‘Secretary of State’….. It is still early. The upcoming debates and other venues will start to winnow the field.

  2. EdFulop EdFulop says:

    What you call “leadership presence”, Fred, Hollywood has taken to call “gravitas”. Despite the obvious liberal slant of it’s politics, I was a big fan of the TV show “The West Wing”, with everybody’s favorite Hollywood progressive, Martin Sheen, playing President Bartlet. The show launched in 1999, at the back end of President Clinton’s 2nd term, when people with morals and values had grown tired of the media giving Clinton a pass on his daliences with interns, and the previous 7 years of allegations from Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers made it clear that our president had acquired a great comfort for lying to save his own skin. I was hungry for someone who had principles, and stood by them, even if I didn’t agree with their “politics”. Although he is/was a fictional character, I would vote for President Bartlet in a heartbeat. Here’s a couple of my favorite scenes where I think that presidential “gravitas” really shines through. In the first two scenes, he delivers smackdowns to sanctimonious conservatives that deserve the tongue-lashings he delivers. In the last one, he’s having it out with God himself in the National Cathedral.




    • Iris Iris says:

      Disagree with you Ed about what we’re talking about is ‘gravitas’ which is definied as “Substance; weightiness: a frivolous biography that lacks the gravitas of its subject . 2. A serious or dignified demeanor” – Huntsman is overflowing with gravitas 😉

  3. Iris Iris says:

    From the LA Times today – kind of captures what we were trying to say as well:


  4. EdFulop EdFulop says:

    Huntsman may have it, but not in the quantity that I would expect the leader of the free world to have. I’m not looking for an argument about language. As I know it, “gravitas” was one of the Roman virtues, along with pietas, dignitas and virtus. It may be translated variously as weight, seriousness, dignity, or importance, and connotes a certain substance or depth of personality. I know gravitas as an expression used to describe a man who shows dignity, character, and a purposeful life — someone who admits that he cheated on his wife with, among the others, a college intern in his employ, shows none of these things. When I hear the word used in conversation, however, “gravitas” makes me think of gravity, our planet’s pull on us, that keeps us from floating off into space; part magnetism, part attraction, and to some degree, part surrender.

    In honor of September 11th, and those we honor today, one last great moment from West Wing.


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