DNC - Political whiplash: Huntsman scrambles to the right



May 20, 2011 8:35 AM

Political whiplash: Huntsman scrambles to the right

By Steve Benen

Jon Huntsman is no doubt aware of his predicament. He’s running for president, as a Republican, despite having been a member of the Obama administration. He also has to impress a far-right GOP base, despite taking center-left positions on a range of issues — climate, gays, immigration, economic stimulus, health care, the TARP bank bailout — important to his party.

What’s his solution? In effect, Huntsman has two choices. He can (a) run as a moderate statesman, hope centrist Republicans still exist, and watch the rest of the GOP field to knock each other out competing for the same right-wing votes; or (b) Huntsman can abandon his moderation and scurry to the right just as fast as he can.

As of this morning, Huntsman appears to prefer the latter.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America,” the former U.S. ambassador to China maintained a level-headed tone, but nevertheless moved sharply to the right on a range of domestic issues.

Stimulus: As Utah’s governor, Huntsman put stimulus money to good use and argued the Recovery Act should have been bigger. This morning, he distanced himself from this position, saying, “Let’s face it, every governor took it.” Huntsman added that a better stimulus would have been more “tax cuts.” (All available evidence suggests the tax cuts in the Recovery Act were the least effective form of economic stimulus.)

Health care: By some accounts, Huntsman expressed support for the Affordable Care Act. This morning, he said, “If I had a chance to repeal it, I would.”

House Republican budget plan: Asked about Paul Ryan’s radical agenda, Huntsman said, “I would’ve voted for it.”

Medicare: Asked specifically about his party’s plan to end Medicare and replace it with a privatized voucher scheme, Huntsman said he supports that, too, for debt-reduction reasons. (The GOP plan does not apply savings to the debt, but rather, uses them to pay for more tax cuts. Either Huntsman doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or he’s not telling the truth.)

Debt limit: Huntsman endorsed House Speaker John Boehner’s (R) line and said the debt ceiling should only be raised after $2 trillion in cuts.

Cap and trade: Huntsman flip-flopped on this last week, but this morning, he didn’t change his position at all.

Huntsman: The circumstances change, like on cap and trade, for example. You know, today our focus — although we all care about the environment, today our number one priority’s the economy — and we should not be doing anything that stands in the way of economic growth. And that which is going to move us forward in terms of expanding our economic base and creating jobs, period. That’s not to say that all the while, you won’t have people who are creating and innovating new approaches to dealing with emissions. That’s going to continue.

Stephanopoulos: But back in 2008, November of 2008, the beginning of the emissions, you said that dealing with those emissions was either going to take cap and trade or a carbon tax. Is that still true?

Huntsman: And that was exactly what CEOs were saying, and that’s exactly what all the experts were saying, and that’s exactly what a whole lot of governors are saying at that point. The economy collapsed.

He apparently doesn’t realize that the climate crisis will continue regardless of economic conditions.

To his credit, Huntsman was less willing to flip on civil unions and immigration, but on everything else, Huntsman was moving to the right so quickly, I’m surprised it didn’t cause whiplash.

For that matter, his willingness to explicitly endorse the Ryan agenda — including Medicare privatization — would prove to be wildly problematic in the general election, should he get that far.