This piece by George Will on why it should be neither Mitt nor Newt got me thinking of the future four years from now.

John Hunstman must be a genius on the long play. He comes out as the conservative who is willing to rattle rhetorically the conservative bones. He makes outrageous statements about global warming as possibly being true and even more possibly as being an effect of human productivity. He hints at the possible truth of theories of evolution, though as a good Mormon he holds that revelation also provides truth regarding the origins of the cosmos including the importance of human life found within it. Still, he says that he doesn’t want to be part of a party (i.e., the Republican party) that upholds what he describes as unreason, but he also doesn’t claim that such alleged scientific truth regarding ultimate questions of human destiny provides answers for public policy. After all, (if I were his campaign manager, I would emphasize that) we are not electing a scientist in chief, nor for that matter a theologian in chief. I know good scientists and theologians to turn to for answers to these deep questions, and it is not an insult (and in fact it is a compliment) to not expect elected officeholders to speak ex cathedra on such issues despite their own personal charisma. This scientific/cosmological issue may be a sideshow, which it is, but Huntsman entered into it.

Does Huntsman recognize the ways in which public policy—everything from education policy to funding for high-tech research—affects these deep questions? Does he know that public policy no matter how well it follows an education administrator’s wet dream cannot produce Einsteinian genius regarding scientific truth? I don’t know, but he seems to be smart enough in terms of politics to know that while science may provide some truths, it doesn’t necessarily provide the truth of the good toward which the country in terms of its public policy must aim to deal with the problems confronting it. Nonetheless, he embroiled himself in these controversies, so he must suffer the electoral consequences this time.

Yet, when it come to conservative positions from abortion and gay marriage, to the strength of America’s commitment to Israel and maintaining a strong but sensible presence for American interests and ideas abroad (even if skeptical of the legality and practicality of the Libya campaign), to being against subsidizing local pork boondoggles like ethanol, to presenting a plan for serious budget cuts and spending cuts which can still attempt a maintenance of decades long commitments of government obligations to retirees, to serious tax reform in terms of its flatness—Hunstman is pretty conservative. Plus he has experience as both governor and ambassador (and as an ambassador to China (!) of all places, and of which place and people he demonstrates fluency in Mandarin). One should add that, while he is filled with ambition to be the leader of the USA and all that that entails, he doesn’t appear to have grandiose weirdo expectations of his own world historical significance, nor does he (as do most of the professing Mormons I have I known) have any of the minor peccadilloes of ordinary vice that cause embarrassment for candidates and elected officials alike.

But at the outset of his campaign Hunstman picked a fight with Rush Limbaugh, or rather he cozied up to Joe Scarbrough—it’s a flip side of the coin as it is the glass reaches half empty or full. He hoped his hipness in terms of rock music and driving a motorcycle would appeal to those frustrated with the stranglehold of Limbaughian bloviation on the so-called movement conservatives, but he turned out to be wrong in that choice. Hipsterdom is never a field upon which one should plant one’s flag—or should I say today’s retro hipsterdom takes time to become tomorrow’s conventional wisdom upon which one could make a presidential campaign. However, such esoteric hipster knowledge (esoteric, if only because it played on inside knowledge that was common knowledge and what everyone knew merely 15 years ago or so) comes across as mere pandering to an electorate of Gen Xers who in their indecisiveness are at best a vote on the margins—at least in terms of their actual numbers. Coming across in this way, Hunstman seemed to lack seriousness, and he picked a fight with influential “power-brokers” like Limbaugh in today’s politics. It didn’t work.

Quoting Curt Cobain, as Hunstman is wont to do, is too soon for pop cultural resonance, and it may always be so. But in 2016? Who knows? The Gen X thing is still a number grab at the marginalia of votes. Next time he needs to be more serious, and that means courting conservative votes without necessarily pandering to their specific political eccentricities. This is because Huntsman has a real conservative record and program—but it is all “next time” for him. He has no chance in 2012.

Ross Douthat had a nice piece recently showing the electoral and rhetorical stupidity of this strategic move on the part of Huntsman’s campaign in attacking the base of what conservatives think is important. But as a person who never thought Rush Limbaugh (in the 1990s) or Glenn Beck (in the 2000s) ever said much that should have been taken seriously by anyone (but who has simultaneously seen these selfsame characters taken seriously despite the obvious surface objections to them), Hunstman may not be caught in the snares of his own hunt for the presidency yet. You may think that running for president for six years (in 2016) is a bad idea, but look at Romney or Gingrich (the latter who has been effectively running for president—if not his entire life—as least since 1996).

Okay, maybe this all smells of defeatism in that I think Obama will be re-elected in 2012. But maybe as a former appointee of Obama, Hunstman has a sense of the inevitability of incumbency in this upcoming election. He saw that conservative lamplights in the dark like Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio (is he even eligible to be president?) weren’t gonna run for a variety of reasons. Sure, we all hope Obama loses, but if Gingrich wins we may all learn the truth of the old Italian adage that “it was better when it was worse.”

So Huntsman in 2016? If Gingrich becomes president, this throws all this out of consideration, or does it? Given Gingrich’s faddishness, recklessness and arrogance as shown in the past, who will you vote for? Hillary? Or back from the dead Barack Obama part II?

At least the Republicans have more interesting back-up players on the bench.

Meanwhile, back to the current campaign, Gingrich . . .

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Articles by John Presnall

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