Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman just finished speaking at the Faith and Freedom Conference in Washington, and his message to the social conservatives in the crowd was clear: I am one of you.
This is something of a tough sell for Huntsman, who is best known on the national scene as a moderate and stands out from the Republican presidential pack for his support of gay civil unions. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and other speakers this morning got big applause by talking about “traditional marriage,” but Huntsman understandably stayed away from the topic.
Instead, he tried to sell himself as one of the nation’s leading opponents of abortion. That’s another favorite topic here, and the kind of thing Huntsman needs to be known for if he wants to win over wary conservative primary voters.
“As governor of Utah I signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk,” Hunstman told the crowd. “I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal, and increased the penalty for doing so. I signed the bill to allow women to know the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade was overturned.”
Expect no social conservative “truce” like the one Mitch Daniels tried to sell back when he was considering a White House run, Huntsman made clear.
“You see, I don’t think the Republican party should focus on our economic life to the neglect of our human life. That is a trade we should not make,” Huntsman said. “If Republicans ignore life, the deficit we face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and of the soul.”
Of course, support for civil unions isn’t the only thing standing between Huntsman and the conservative wing of the GOP. He’s doesn’t think climate change is a hoax, a position some evangelicals have agreed with in the past, though it’s safe to say most here don’t.
He didn’t mention climate change either.
Huntsman did talk a lot about religion, which could help him overcome another potential barrier between him and the Christian voters here at FFC: his Mormon faith. Huntsman told a long story about one of his adopted daughters, Gracie, who he said thanks Jesus for bringing her to the Huntsman family. It was a moving story, and one that the crowd here responded to with audible emotion.
Overall, though, the crowd didn’t give Hunstman a third of the love it gave Bachmann when she took the stage and led attendees in prayer. Bachmann got more than a few standing ovations. It’s not clear Huntsman will ever have that kind of credibility among the audience here.