GOP Death Watch

Can a Mormon ex-Obama Appointee Who Kind of Likes Gays Win the GOP Presidential Nomination?

You would think that no one could possibly object to a photogenic former Republican governor of Utah as a GOP presidential candidate. But in today’s Bizarro-world of Republican politics, Jon Huntsman may actually be too liberal for the right-wing party base. It’s bad enough that he served in the Obama administration as ambassador to China, and that he’s a Mormon, a religion that many conservative Christians view as just this side of Islam in terms of theological credibility. But the coffin nail may be lavender-colored: Huntsman has gone so far as to endorse (gasp!) civil unions. And that’s coming back to haunt him.

Huntsman hasn’t formally declared his candidacy yet, but that’s not stopping the right wing of the party from questioning his credentials as a real conservative (i.e., a flat earther). Huntsman surprised his state and party when in 2009 he expressed his support for civil unions and for nondiscrimination protections for gays and lesbians. (Of course, he’s opposed to same-sex marriages.) Moreover, Huntsman seems genuinely comfortable with gay people. He and his wife, Mary, are close friends with Reed Cowan, a former Salt Lake City television reporter, and Cowan’s partner, Greg Abplanalp. When Cowan’s and Abplanalp’s son died suddently, the then-governor cleared his calendar to attend the funeral.

Despite the fact that in many respects Huntsman projects an image of a reasonable conservative–or more likely because of it–you might as well get your jam jars ready because once the primary and caucus voters are done, he’ll be toast. Potential rivals Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty and Mitch Daniels all oppose civil unions and gay marriage and aren’t likely to hesitate calling Huntsman a weak sister for daring to treat the gays with a modicum of decency and respect.

“About 60 percent of the likely caucusgoers are social conservatives, and while that doesn’t mean those are their primary issues, they want their candidates to be good on those issues,” Doug Gross, a former chair of the Iowa GOP, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “An economic conservative will win it, but they have to be OK on the social issues as well.”

The irony is, as Nate Silver points out, that polls show that Huntsman’s positions on gay rights are within the GOP mainstream. Even Republican voters are becoming more comfortable with civil unions as a compromise position. The trend suggests, says Silver, that “only about 45 percent of the Republican electorate will be opposed to any form of legal recognition for gay couples by the time the first primaries take place in early 2012.” The problem is that the early primary calendar is tilted heavily toward states with a large religious right voting bloc, making it hard for Huntsman to gain traction at the start of the race.

Huntsman has other baggage,  working for Obama (aka, the destroyer of liberty) and supporting the stimulus package chief among them. Of course, Huntsman may just be positioning himself for a more serious run in 2016, assuming that the Republican party will implode in a welter of right-wing paranoia in the meantime. Then again, it hasn’t happened yet.

Photo credit: Saucy_Pan/Flicker

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  • Cam

    The trouble is, Mitt Romney used to be good on Gay Rights, Gays in MA. supported him, and then he had more meetings with church leaders and decided to move up in GOP politics and the views completely changed.

  • Philo

    You can’t be Republican and for gay rights.

  • Mr. Enemabag Jones

    When someone shows me a government document that asks if you are “Civil Unioned” I will consider CU’s equal to marriage.

  • tjr101

    Jon Huntsman could be a threat to Obama in a general elections because he is very reasonable and mainstream in a lot of his views, so personally I’ll be glad if he gets knocked out in the primary. None of the other rabid right-wing candidates can win a general, the religious right dominates GOP primaries.

  • the crustybastard

    FTFA: “…he’s a Mormon, a religion that many conservative Christians view as just this side of Islam in terms of theological credibility.”

    No, that view is HARDLY unique to conservative Christians.

    I’m the furthest thing from a conservative Christian, and I regard Mormonism as having the theological credibility of Enron.

  • Jeffree

    A socially moderate Republican running against Obama 2012 would cause the Democrats to do more for social issues than they’re doing now. Without a viable (or even semi-viable) candidate in the race, we’re stuck with small steps at accomodation.

    I don’t think the evangelicals would EVER
    support an LDS member, based on what I read on the fundie blogs.

    p.s. Off Topic: Huckabee now has come out as saying he’s not running. See dailybeast/NYT wire

  • Matt

    Your analysis of the Republican Primary calendar is way off. Huntsman has an extremely plausible path to the nomination. He could bypass Iowa, win in N.H. due to moderate and liberal Republicans, plus Democrats will vote in the Republican Primary since their will not be a competitive race on their side. He follows that up with a strong showing in Nevada, with a large LDS population and with the Social conservative base being divided by so many candidates could have strong showing in S.C., followed by a win in Florida to wrap it up. His path to the nomination would follow that of McCain, and he will have the 2008 McCain team behind him, which are the most experience bunch of political operatives in the Republican Presidential Primaries.

  • delurker

    @Matt: “plus Democrats will vote in the Republican Primary since their will not be a competitive race on their side.”

    Your analysis kinda fails here. If Dems do vote in the Republican primary, Dems won’t vote for the strongest republican who will give the Dem incumbent the hardest time. They will vote for the weakest, like FrothyMix or someone like that.

  • Matt

    @Matt: Actually there is a precedent for my analysis, Many NH Democrats and Independents crossed over and voted for McCain in 2000. Remember that NH and South Carolina are both open primary states which gives a Republican moderate like Huntsman a leg up since Obama has no primary race and these independent/Democratic leaning voters will cast their ballots in the Republican Primary. Also your belief in democratic negative strategic voting in a Republican Primary is off base. Research has shown that overall strategic voting happens at low levels and impacts election outcomes at the margins. Also that negative strategically voting tends to have little impact on election outcomes and is far outweighed by positive strategic voting (voters voting for a candidate they like less but believe in more electable)

  • Cam


    Yes, but NH ALSO voted for Pat Buchannen when he ran against Bush 1.

  • delurker

    Even if that’s true, the Bushies freaked when that happenend and Rove planted the push poll in SC about McCain having an illegitimate black daughter (He adopted a Bengali girl.) The rest is history. What makes you think that Huntsman won’t be kneecapped similarly?

    Your analysis of the path to the nom would be stronger if you know, McCain had won the nom that year.

  • Cam

    @delurker: said… “Rove planted the push poll in SC about McCain having an illegitimate black daughter (He adopted a Bengali girl.)”

    The weird thing about that is….nobody has ever been able to find anybody who got one of those calls, and the only people claiming that it happened were people on the McCain campaign who couldn’t provide any proof.

    Some seem to think that the Mccain campaign brought up a phony rumor so they would then have an excuse to talk about what a wonderful thing his wife did in adopting their daughter.

  • Todd

    Full disclosure: I’m a devout Mormon and a Republican.

    Further disclosure: Jon Huntsman’s stance on civil unions is one of the reasons I like him. My sister-in-law and her partner deserve legal recognition, particularly for the sake of their daughter, but also for the sake of their property and next-of-kin rights which I believe gay couples deserve.

    Naturally, I don’t believe marriage is for gay couples. My view of marriage is that it is a unique religious institution, but that it should remain in the realm of religion, not government. The Prop 8 fiasco was a problem, not because Mormons supported it, but rather because our laws offer legal benefits to couples under a purely religious institution. This creates a predicament Mormons cannot avoid, when considering their most profound teachings on the importance of traditional marriage and family in the eternities, but I have a solution for all parties.

    The goverment should stop issuing marriage licenses altogether and issue civil union licenses exclusively. These licenses would be offered to any two people seeking to share next-of-kin, joint property, and parental rights.

    Then, gays who want to get married can go to whatever church will marry them without needing any authorization from the state. Mormons can retain their beliefs on marriage without any interference to or from the gay community.

    I’d like to know your thoughts on the idea.

  • David Foster

    I place Jon Huntsman in the same boat as Arnold Schwarzenegger. They both came in as conservative Republicans when running for their prospective governorships but quickly left those GOP party aspects in the dust with those who voted them in office. I am an LDS member born/raised in So Cal who moved to Utah in the 70’s. Like everyone else, I put my trust in Arnold to carry the GOP torch but got burned by a man who had a different agenda. Now Arnold is getting burned as one of the worse govenors ever to hold office, at least in California. I will never pay $$ to see him in a movie again. Too bad, because he is a good actor. Govenor Huntsman did the same thing. He used his Mormon background to get elected but then turned against everything conservative that he supposedly was elected for. His facial expression says it all: he could care less what anyone thinks. He’s not the worst person I’ve ever known but he’s a close runner-up. As far as I’m concerned, he’s used up his 15-minutes of fame & I would never vote for him in any election. For-what-it’s-worth, at least.

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