In an earlier post I wrote that establishment Republicans need to avoid showing contempt for the Republican primary voters whose support they need. Super commenter DJF described the Jon Huntsman presidential campaign:
John Huntsman – a smart guy who did have some good, conservative ideas – may have suffered from the same ailment as Castle. In other words, his campaign might have had more impact if he had been able to stifle his impulse to show his contempt for most conservatives. Of course, his having been part of the Obama administration didn’t help, either.
That gets to a big part of the problem with the Huntsman campaign. As Salon’s Steve Kornacki pointed out, the Huntsman campaign felt like Huntsman advisor John Weaver trying to recapture the later part of John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign where McCain ran to the left of frontrunner George Bush on taxes, won the New Hampshire primary, but didn’t win the whole thing. The Huntsman campaign never recovered from running a culture war campaign against the Republican party in the Republican primaries. The point isn’t that Huntsman differed from Rick Perry or anybody else on climate change. Huntsman could have had a distinct position on anthropogenic global warming without being a jerk. Jim Manzi does it just fine. But having a distinct position on climate change wasn’t the purpose of Huntsman’s comment when he tweeted “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” The point was to demonstrate his smug superiority.
Imagine a similar comment from a Democrat running for his party’s nomination in the 1990s taking a shot at his own party. It would go something like “To be clear, I’m against letting convicted murderers loose to rape and kidnap and I’m against welfare cheats. Call me crazy” After that, it wouldn’t matter what that candidate’s record and policy positions were. Democratic voters didn’t think of themselves as “pro-murderer” any more that most Republicans think of themselves as “anti-science.” It is possible to shift a party’s position on policy, but not if you slander your party’s membership for the amusement of the opposition.
And about those Huntsman policies. Huntsman’s tax plan would probably have raised taxes on middle-class working families while cutting taxes on high earners. So let me get this straight. You have the son of a billionaire coming out for large tax cuts on high earners and those with mostly investment income (much larger cuts than anything Romney proposed), while raising taxes for those around the median of the income distribution. Does anyone thing that is a politically viable position? There were all these stories about how the Obama campaign feared Huntsman. Because if there is one thing people want from a Republican presidential candidate, it’s a middle-class tax increase. If, by some miracle, Huntsman had gotten the Republican nomination, the same liberals who were praising Huntsman as a “sane” Republican would be pointing out that Jon Huntsman made Mitt Romney look like Huey Long.