His views, though, may prove to be much more popular among tea-party conservatives (and New Hampshire primary voters) than one might at first assume. Tea partiers, like so many other Americans, are fed up with the decade-long war in Afghanistan. Huntsman has made it clear he’s ready to wind it down, leaving behind only a nimble and aggressive counterterrorism force. Although the Pentagon and the commanders on the ground are still pressing to keep as many nation-building troops in Afghanistan for as long as possible, Huntsman said he’ll trust his own instincts. (Unlike frontrunner Mitt Romney, who said he’ll do what the generals tell him to do.) “I’ve been engaged in that part of the world for many years, and I lived next door for the last two years,” he said. “We’ve already had wins for the United States [in Afghanistan]. We can’t wish for stability more than they want it.” And though he’s been portrayed as too moderate for the Republican base, he has a consistent pro-life record, is a big Second Amendment supporter, and enacted the largest tax cuts in Utah’s history.James Joyner thinks Huntsman could prove an inviting alternative for conservatives:
I do think that what is needed is to find a candidate that can somehow please both moderates and the Tea Party. Huntsman has received a lot of knocks for being too moderate, but a Rick Perry or a Michele Bachmann candidacy will rally the red meat conservatives without making a dent beyond the base.
Indeed, the notion that someone could be elected twice as governor of Utah, arguably the most conservative state in the union, and be some sort of closet liberal is baffling. Then again, Ronald Reagan made many compromises that would render him a RINO in today’s climate.
Still, while I like what I’m seeing in Huntsman, he’s not yet a significant candidate. Indeed, he’s no longer even showing up in the RealClearPolitics numbers while non-candidates Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani all register in the double digits.
Then again, it’s pretty clear that Republican voters aren’t exactly in love with Mitt Romney. He remains the presumptive favorite for the nomination but couldn’t even beat a lackluster John McCain last cycle.
While the Herman Cain bubble seems to have burst, Perry, Palin, and Giuliani are all getting significant interest because the nominating electorate is looking for someone to excite them. It’s probably not going to be Newt Gingrich or Tim Pawlenty. And I believe Michele Bachmann tops out around 15 percent. Perry’s path to the nomination is the most plausible of the others.
Huntsman represents an interesting alternative–a conservatism of a style that put together three consecutive national Electoral College landslides in my lifetime. I’d like to think that it could come back into vogue and, for example, once again put California into play for Republicans. But it’s just wishful musing at this point.
The question right now for Huntsman is can he get noticed enough to run with the big dogs.