Politics

REPORT: Jon Huntsman’s Secret Life As A Progressive

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R) left his post as President Obama’s ambassador to China last month in order to pursue a potential bid for the presidency. During his ambassadorship, Huntsman penned multiple letters to Obama in which he praised the president’s “remarkable” leadership, words that drew the ire of conservative Republicans across the country.

Today, Huntsman begins testing the presidential waters with a 5-day swing through New Hampshire. Windham, N.H., Republican Chairman Travis Blais — who will host Huntsman at an event Saturday — laid out the challenge for Huntsman: “He obviously needs to dispel any suspicion that he’s not conservative enough to win the Republican nomination.”

Indeed, Huntsman has a history of butting heads with conservatives in his own party. He describes himself as a voice of moderation in an increasingly polarized political world, seemingly taking pride in his role as a party outsider. When he was reportedly considering a Senate run earlier this year, some Utahns even suggested he run for the office as a Democrat.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the issues on which Huntsman’s views differ from those of his party’s conservative wing — positions that, while sensible, could make it hard for him to win the GOP nomination:

Argued stimulus package was too small: When the economic stimulus bill passed, Huntsman criticized fellow GOP governors who refused to take stimulus money for engaging in “gratuitous political griping.” Later in 2009, he added: “I guess in hindsight, we can all say that there were some fundamental flaws with it. It probably wasn’t large enough” – an argument advanced by, among others, liberal economist Paul Krugman.

Supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants: Huntsman supported comprehensive immigration reforms during his time as governor, including a path-to-citizenship program for undocumented immigrants who came to America for work-related purposes and a plan for young immigrants that sounds eerily similar to the DREAM Act: “A lot of these kids were either born here or certainly were not in a position in their earlier lives to have any influence over the outcome of their journey,” he said. “They were brought here. Does that mean we disregard them and we kind of cancel them out from achieving the American dream?”

Supported cap-and-trade: Huntsman supported a cap-and-trade policy to limit the country’s carbon emissions. He signed Utah onto the Western Climate Initiative that would lead to a cap-and-trade system, and during the 2008 gubernatorial debate, said, “Until we put a value on carbon, we’re never going to be able to get serious about dealing with climate change.” He also touted the University of Utah’s status as a leading center of innovation on carbon capture programs and advocated moving toward a “greener economy.” He recently reiterated his belief in climate change, saying, “All I know is 90 percent of the scientists say climate change is occurring. If 90 percent of the oncological community said something was causing cancer we’d listen to them.”

Supports civil unions: While governor, Huntsman supported expanding civil unions to same-sex couples, for which he was criticized by conservative Republicans. Huntsman told the Deseret News: “I’m a firm believer in the traditional construct of marriage, a man and a woman. But I also think that we can go a greater distance in enhancing equal rights for others in nontraditional relationships.” He stood by his support yesterday in an interview with Time.

Doesn’t irrationally fear China: Huntsman doesn’t seem to partake in the conservative angst about the impending doom of the United States at the hands of the Chinese. While he believes China will surpass the U.S. in “sheer output” over the next few decades – making it the world’s largest economy – he notes that the Chinese are perhaps a century away from catching the U.S. in per capita GDP, a more relevant economic statistic.

As Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson noted, Huntsman has already begun to walk back his support of cap-and-trade in an apparent attempt to paper over his moderate record on the issue. Other moderate Republicans facing primary challenges from their right, like Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), have begun to rescind their past support for immigration reform and the DREAM Act, ideas on which Huntsman is also moderate.

The question, then, is whether Huntsman will continue to stand by his sensible and sometimes progressive record on these issues, or if he will try to put them to bed in transparent attempts to pander to Republican primary voters.