Jon Huntsman, the Moderate Radical

Ezra Klein on Jon Huntsman’s third-place showing in last night’s primary:

Huntsman’s weak finish led many to suggest that the GOP was no place for moderates. But the truth is that Huntsman’s campaign didn’t prove that, or anything like it. For all Huntsman’s signaling and hinting, his policy platform is no more moderate than Romney’s. In fact, it might be less moderate.

Ezra goes on to explain that on a policy level, Huntsman is actually one of the most conservative guys in the race. And he’s right. It’s endlessly annoying to hear pundits refer to him as a moderate kind of guy without, seemingly, knowing anything about his actual political views.

And yet, it’s not entirely baseless. Policy isn’t the only thing that matters, after all, and I’d argue that Huntsman quite likely is moderate in two important ways. The first is the one that lots of people have already pointed out: he doesn’t spend all his time making apocalyptic statements about Barack Obama being the anti-Christ and Democrats leading the United States into penury and decline. He says he believes in evolution and global warming rather than claiming these are vast conspiracies of the scientific community. This kind of thing matters.

But there’s something else that matters even more, and that’s the second way in which Huntsman is genuinely moderate. This is, granted, supposition on my part, but I suspect that Huntsman is more willing to compromise than most of the other candidates. He might want to cut the capital gains rate to zero, but if he could strike a deal with Democrats for a useful bit of tax reform that didn’t include a cap gains cut, I think he’d probably do it. He’s not beholden to the tea party base for anything, he’s not committed to a worldview in which compromise is treason, and as president he’d be free to horse-trade and negotiate in normal presidential fashion. I’m not so sure that, say, Rick Perry or Newt Gingrich would want to, and I’m not sure that Mitt Romney would feel able to. This is a big deal.

Of course, he’s not going to win this year, so none of this matters immediately. But we might see him again in 2016.

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