Commentary Magazine


The King of Republican Cool?

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is supposedly still considering whether he’ll run for president. Like a number of other possible contenders, he stayed away from Thursday’s first Republican presidential debate. But Huntsman landed in the state the next day and proceeded to give every indication that he wants its support for the GOP nomination.

Huntsman met with South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Friday and then gave a commencement address at the University of South Carolina on Saturday. He didn’t talk politics to the graduating Gamecocks, but the significance of his appearance in an early primary state was lost on no one. Next week he is said to be heading to New Hampshire.

It’s far from clear that South Carolina is the best venue for a Huntsman candidacy, since he is thought to be among the most moderate of GOP contenders on the issues and must also labor under the handicap of having worked for two years for the Obama administration as ambassador to China. His upbeat message at the commencement, which centered on his belief that America would not be eclipsed by China in the coming decades, is not the fire and brimstone that many primary voters like, but it fits with his reputation as a candidate that would fare better in November than in a primary.

But whether it plays well or not, political observers may need to get used to hearing the autobiographical pitch that Huntsman used in his commencement speech. He likes to recall that he dropped out of high school to play in a band. The Washington Post noted that with this story, Huntsman might “add a measure of cool to a field that has yet to find traction or a solid front-runner.” Of course, what passes for “cool” among Republican Mormons from Utah might not exactly measure up to any objective standard of cool in the general population. But if, as the expression goes, a one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind, perhaps candidate Huntsman has a chance to become the king of Republican cool.