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Huntsman As GOP Litmus Test

Matt Bai insists that Jon Huntsman is a serious candidate with a strong chance at winning the Republican nomination, and that anybody who thinks otherwise is just a blinkered Republican-hater:

But most Democrats and some of my fellow media types seem to regard Mr. Huntsman more as this year’s Wes Clark or Fred Thompson, a guy who looks good on paper but is going precisely nowhere. Among other things, they point to a recent Washington Post-ABC poll that found that only 35 percent of Republicans had even heard of Mr. Huntsman — and 36 percent of those voters said there was no chance they would vote for him. At that rate, Herman Cain should mop the floor with the guy.
So what to believe?
The disagreement, I think, is in large part about how you view the Republican Party at the moment. Republicans who are intrigued by Mr. Huntsman are thinking that an electable, articulate guy like him might be compelling to all those mainstream Republican voters who don’t consider themselves Tea Partiers.
But let’s face it: Democrats and some commentators tend to see the Republican Party right now as a kind of wild, barren land where nothing thoughtful ever grows. If you start from the premise that the Republican grass-roots is made up mostly of stereotypical birther types with pictures of Sarah Palin on their refrigerators and nothing but Bibles on their bookshelves, then sure, Mr. Huntsman’s candidacy would seem to be a little laughable.

The bit about Palin pictures and bibles is obvious hyperbole designed to reduce all opposition to an untenable left-wing stereotype. But I do consider the "wild, barren land where nothing thoughtful ever grows" analysis of the contemporary Republican Party to be reasonably accurate, and I'd consider the most recent GOP Presidential debate fairly strong evidence.

But rather than trust my judgment, let's listen to the judgment of a man Bai would trust as an authority on the subject: Jon Huntsman. Governor Huntsman, are you too moderate to win the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination?

During our conversations last month in Utah, Huntsman had already begun to realize that perhaps the Republican Party was not ready for him. "You cannot have a successful party based upon a very narrow band, demographically," he tells me. "You've gotta broaden it to include more young people, more people of color, more people who are urban-dwellers, more who are the intelligentsia in America, many who have jettisoned the party. … And that's ultimately I think how it's going to play out. We're just not there yet." Two years was probably not enough time for the party to change. "He realized he'd just be beating his head against the wall with these guys, which made him open to the phone call [from Obama]," says another source close to Huntsman. "If he thought he had a real chance to be the standard-bearer and savior of the party, obviously he would have said no." ...
Huntsman is perfectly content to bide his time. Quoting political historian Theodore White, he told me when we spoke last month that he was happy to defer "to the inevitable cycles of history. Some of them are so inexorable you can't fight against them." In deciding to go to China, he seemed to be conceding that he wasn't going to win the battle for the GOP's soul this time around. Better to wait for the cycles of history to align in your favor.

That's from Zvika Kriger's great 2009 profile of Huntsman. I think it pretty well answers the question about whether Huntsman can get his party's nomination in 2012. And keep in mind, it was written just a few months into Obama's presidency, and already Huntsman was lambasting the excessive partisanship and opposition of the Congressional Republicans:

Emboldened, he started taking on the national party, excoriating GOP leaders for their knee-jerk obstructionism and narrow social conservatism. "I don't even know the [Republican] congressional leadership--I have not met them, I don't listen or read whatever it is they say because it is inconsequential, completely," he told The Washington Times in a scathing February interview. "Our moral soapbox was completely taken away from us because of our behavior in the last few years."
In dozens of interviews over the past few weeks, he has characterized Republicans as "devoid of ideas" and "gasping for air," decrying the GOP's "gratuitous partisanship," comparing it to "a very narrow party of angry people," and describing its strategy as "obstruct and obfuscate … grousing and complaining."

It's not like the GOP has moved to the center since then, either. So why is he running now? Almost certainly, Huntsman is hoping to raise his name recognition, run a credible campaign, and then, if and when a prospective Obama reelection prompts the party to move to the center, set himself up as an acceptable candidate for 2016.

In any case, someone here is clearly deluded about the current mentality of the Republican Party. But it's not those of us who discount Huntsman's 2012 prospects.