Much ink, digital and otherwise, has been spilled in the past week over former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman’s emergence as the militant moderate in the Republican presidential contest. As focus has shifted away from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and toward Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Huntsman has emerged as the Democrats’ favorite Republican — taking stands in favor of evolution and expressing his belief in climate change.
Before that, he was known as the guy who supported civil unions, an equally foreign position to much of the 2012 field. Huntsman’s viewed as such a moderate that the first ads run on his behalf of the cycle are being paid for by a Democrat.
But in reality, Huntsman’s only a moderate when compared to the rest of the modern GOP.
Conservative on climate change
Take Huntsman’s environmental stance, for starters. Sure, Huntsman says climate change is a real thing while Rick Perry says it’s a get rich quick scheme for scientists, but Huntsman has made it very clear he intends to do nothing about what he thinks is something that exists.
That puts Huntsman to the right of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, who famously backed a cap-and-trade program on the trail.
Polling shows Americans are closer to Huntsman than they are to people like Perry (though Republicans aren’t) so if it makes you moderate to take a position most in the public take, he’s certainly more moderate. But Huntsman is certainly not a closet Democrat on that issue, thought he’s also certainly not trying to turn himself into a closet climate change skeptic like Mitt Romney seems to be.
Conservative on economics
There’s really nothing moderate whatsoever about Huntsman’s fiscal message. Again, it’s only because of how radical the party around him has become that the way Huntsman is running comes off as centrist.
For example, Huntsman was able to forge a middle path back when he came out in support of raising the debt ceiling while many of his opponents didn’t. Huntsman backed Speaker John Boehner’s very conservative, Balanced Budget Amendment-requiring debt ceiling deal, which was well to the right of just about everyone’s plan except the Tea Party.
He also said he wouldn’t support even the most pro-Republican compromise position on a deficit reduction plan. And though Huntsman is out in public talking about “shared sacrifice” for the rich, he’s a big, big fan of budget plan crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). That bill caused consternation even within Republican ranks, and polls show Americans really couldn’t be more against it.
So, Huntsman’s certainly staked out a position on the economy — but it’s to the right of most people.
Conservative on gay rights
The civil unions thing was Huntsman’s original moderate bona fide, because it really does put him to the far left of his opponents running for president who are not at all interested in talking about gay rights at all, much less expanding marriage.
But again, Huntsman’s not that moderate on this issue — he’s to the right of the majority of Americans, who have told pollsters they favor gay marriage rights. Of course unless and until President Obama “evolves” his from support for civil unions to supporting gay marriage, the voters won’t get any presidential candidate who stands with them on gay marriage.
Moderate on the wars?
Maybe the only place where Huntsman is clearly a moderate — or even a liberal — is foreign policy. Since he announced his presidential candidacy, Huntsman has strongly supported bringing American troops out of Afghanistan more quickly than Obama has ordered. Mitt Romney’s said something similar, but on this front Huntsman has put himself on the left of his fellow presidential candidates, save Ron Paul.
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