Mormon Inquiry

Mormon Inquiry

Jon Huntsman, Mormon Republican in exile

posted by Dave Banack

That’s the take in “Huntsman, Interrupted,” a long essay at The New Republic. The essay speculates that Utah Governor Jon Huntsman knows 2012 is too early for the GOP to reinvent itself and be receptive to a presidential candidate positioned on the left side of the GOP spectrum on social issues, as he apparently is now. So, instead, he’ll go to China and avoid the potentially disastrous elections in 2010 and 2012, then return for a run in 2016 having avoided Republican infighting and with excellent foreign policy credentials. (Although 2008 showed you can get to the White House with no foreign policy experience … still, I like the idea that people think a presidential candidate should have some.)

The Mormon angle gets covered, of course.

Huntsman seems to have learned another lesson from the Romney campaign: A Mormon, no matter how conservative, cannot win amongst the right wing of the party–particularly evangelicals. Romney thought he could win their favor by becoming a drum-beating social conservative, underestimating the deep-rooted antipathy many evangelicals have toward Mormons. A recent Pew poll found that 39 percent of evangelicals hold negative views of Mormons–a sentiment Mike Huckabee used against Romney. … In light of Romney’s experience, the more likely base for Huntsman would have been the moderate wing of the party, which is less concerned with religion in general (and the LDS church specifically).

So a qualified and electable Republican candidate apparently decides he is better off spending four years as a diplomat in China representing a Democratic president than continuing his course as a successful and rising Republican politician. This is in part because of the role of Evangelicals within the party. This should make whoever is running the Republican Party these days lose some sleep.

Earlier posts on this topic:

Comments read comments(17)
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posted May 21, 2009 at 3:47 am

Only Obama could send a Republican to China.

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john f.

posted May 21, 2009 at 7:40 am

Dave, Huntsman won’t be representing Obama in China but rather the United States, even though Obama appointed him. At any rate, don’t you agree that a moderate Republican is better than what has become of the party, hijacked as it is by one-issue voters who aren’t very interested in the separation of church and state?

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posted May 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

@john f.
What exactly has become of the party? They nominated McCain, the very candidate you claim is the ideal Republican. He lost. Colin Powell, your idea of the ideal Republican endorsed and campaigned for Obama.
And, let’s just dispense with the term moderate. Whenever you hear it, all you are hearing is a liberal who is too cowardly to call himself a liberal.
Liberal Republicans are simply Democrat-lite. Why vote for “lite” when you can have the real thing? Huntsman should just man up and become a Democrat.

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john f.

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:07 am

McCain was certainly not the ideal Republican candidate. He was a disaster for the party in 2008.
The party has become a body that shoots down its most qualified and competent candidates based on a religious test that is only even relevant to the most embittered and extreme element of the party, which happens to be the wing of the party that controls the primaries. This is what happened to Mitt Romney.
The paragraph that Dave quotes above is actually pretty interesting. Romney felt he had to become more extreme than his pragmatic instincts in order to survive the primaries. From Romney’s experience in getting shot down because of the Republican right-wing’s distaste for his religion, Huntsman can learn that he should tailor himself to suit them but should instead speak to the broader party as a pragmatist rather than as an ideologue to a subset of extremists. Moderation is indeed the best policy and allows for a more peaceable union.

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john f.

posted May 21, 2009 at 11:09 am

I meant to say that Hunstman should not tailor himself to suit them but should instead be the pragmatist that he is. Huntsman is a great person and a very skilled political leader.

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Your Name

posted May 21, 2009 at 12:38 pm

It is unlikely a serious analysis would conclude that Romney lost the nomination because of evangelical dislike for Mormonism.
Huckabee won Iowa on the strength of Christian support, no doubt, but Huckabee is a Christian. People naturally favor those they’re most like, especially in matters of religion. With the affable Huckabee on the ticket it was tough going for all other non-Christian candidates. Had Huckabee not been in the Iowa race, there’s little doubt Romney would have won Iowa.
In New Hampshire the primary is controlled by moderates. So here it was natural for them to cast their vote for McCain. He had previously been strong in NH and he rode the coattails of previous support. Religion was a negligible factor.
In Michigan Romney won handily.
In South Carolina again there were other Christians in the race attracting the evangelical vote, but McCain won anyway. In Florida, Romney barely lost to McCain, but evangelicals favored him over Huckabee. The same was true across many of the races in the South, and elsewhere, but certainly not all. Exit polls indicated that Romney pulled more evangelicals than Huckabee in a number of those states.
This is not to suggest that the Mormon factor was inconsequential, but there were certainly other reasons, including competition and primary vote dynamics that contributed to Romney’s loss. It’s unfortunate that the press continues to ascribe the primary reasons for that loss to the Mormon factor. This does a disservice to Romney, the party, and evangelicals.
David Bryce

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posted May 21, 2009 at 12:46 pm

When the GOP gives up the Christian Taliban rule, they will start winning again. The party has been hijacked no doubt about it.
Obama is president because of the evangelicals. No doubt about it. Their petty tactics and rhetoric is equivalent to their doctrines.
A third party will not be the solution as it will only fracture the GOP. We need to squash bigot ideas and the sooner the better. We should never let the evangelicals carry their war with the Mormons into our party. Never.

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a random John

posted May 21, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Does anyone know just how active Gov. Huntsman is? My understanding is that he is not an active member of the Church and that Mormonism wouldn’t be nearly the issue for him that it was for Romney.
I still can’t believe Romney ran to the right. He should have run exactly as he did when he became governor of Massachusetts. He probably couldn’t have beat Obama, but he’d be well positioned for 2012. Running to the right was a disaster. He should have run on his executive ability and understanding of the economy.

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Steve M

posted May 21, 2009 at 8:09 pm

@ David Bryce,
Exit polls from the 2008 primaries indicated that Romney fared the best among the least religious Republicans (excepting Mormons, of course). I think Huntsman is smart to play to Republican moderates and seculars. It also shows some forward-thinking–he seems well aware that the Republican Party can’t survive if it allows itself to continue to be defined by its most conservative members.
And for what it’s worth, I feel like Huntsman’s move to the center is more convincing than Romney’s move to the right was. This might just be my dislike of Romney speaking, but Huntsman strikes me as not only a shrewder politician, but also a better public face for Mormonism. For all his squeaky-cleanness, Mitt seems kinda phony.
I may be a crazy liberal tree-hugger, but I could see myself supporting Huntsman in 2016 (depending on who the Democratic nominee is, of course).

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posted May 21, 2009 at 9:11 pm

I may be a crazy liberal tree-hugger, but I could see myself supporting Huntsman in 2016 (depending on who the Democratic nominee is, of course).
You said it!
what is this hang up on mormons they are no different than any other religion. What if Mitt was Pentecostal would there be the same outcry

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Your Name

posted May 22, 2009 at 1:19 am

Ummm. I am so darn tired of folks saying Huckabee was the ONLY christian running. Mitt Romney is a Christian. Moromns are Christian. When will you let us LDS into your little ‘he’s a Christian, she is not’ club?
Just wonde’rn.

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My name

posted May 22, 2009 at 1:21 am

Huntsman is active LDS. As is his family. His maternal grandfather is the late David B. Haight. His Father, Jon Huntman Sr. is a Area Seventy.

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a random John

posted May 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

My name,
I’m well aware of his pedigree. My understanding is that he is not especially active, and that this is well known on Capitol Hill but is not common knowledge in Utah as a whole.

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posted May 26, 2009 at 8:02 pm

With Utah now the fastest growing state in the US and Mormons increasingly coming out of the woodwork in media and politics, it will only be a matter of time before the doors (and glass ceilings) are broken down.
Remember, the Baptist movement in the 17th Century was considered a roque heresy in its day, it followed a similar trajectory before stagnating. It is the Mormons turn, this is simply poetic justice.

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Steven Danderson

posted May 28, 2009 at 6:37 pm

Very simply, the reason why Brother Huntsman accepted the post is that he KNOWS he can NEVER become President–UNLESS he switches parties and renounces pretty much everything he had done as Governor–which I doubt will happen. Accepting an ambassador appointment from a President from the opposite political party pretty much kills any presidential aspiration in your party–unless you defect. Let’s look at history. I may be wrong, but the last President of the United States who accepted a major political appointment from a President of the opposite party–without defecting–was Theodore Roosevelt–and that was only because Roosevelt had been a holdover from the previous Republican administration (Benjamin Harrison), and he and then-President Stephen Grover Cleveland were personal friends. No party base will let a presidential aspirant get away with accepting a major political appointment from a President with divergent political philosophies–and interests!
But, absent a defection, accepting such an appointment makes perfect sense if one has worldwide business interests, and wants a competitive edge in an emerging market of more than one billion people, with the second-largest GDP in the world.
Jon Huntsman knows that his political career is dead in the water. However, being an Ambassador will probably help to resurrect his BUSINESS career!

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posted July 3, 2009 at 2:24 am

I hope all my fellow Mormons realize that the republican party doesn’t want us, and we shouldn’t want them. The republican party’s platform clashes with almost all of our most sacred beliefs. Bruce R. McConkie was democrat, as was James E. Faust, and John H. Groberg. And those are only the ones we know of. I am willing to bet that the majority of the General Authorities are democrats but have opted to keep quiet for fear of causing too much disarray in the church.

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posted July 11, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Eric, could you explain how the Republican Party’s platform clashes with almost all sacred Mormon beliefs? (And, I assume, how the Democratic Party’s platform synchs with Mormon beliefs?) I am not LDS (I just wandered into this discussion by following links), but I am a Republican. Back in the 1970s, I went to high school in a small town in Northern Arizona–a town that was at least 90% LDS. Most of the Mormons I knew were Democrats. In fact, Northern Arizona was such a Democratic stronghold that many Republicans registered as Democrats just so they would have someone to vote for in primary elections. Now, my old town is overwhelmingly Republican, and the majority of Mormons I know are Republican. And, ususally, they are the most conservative of Republicans. None of these people are stupid. So, if the Republican Party’s platform conflicst with their sacred beliefs, how do you explain their affiliation? Were they hypnotized?

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