Journalism in the Public Interest

Our Guide to the Best Coverage on Jon Huntsman and His Record

Jon Huntsman’s divergence on some core Republican issues has given him the labels of “moderate” and “second-tier.” But the former ambassador to China has also earned conservative praise when it comes to guns and taxes.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman speaks to employees during a campaign stop at Goss International in Durham, N.H., on Jan. 5, 2012. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This is the latest installment in a series of reading guides on 2012 presidential candidates. Here are the other guides.

Jon Huntsman's divergence on some core Republican issues, both social and economic, has given him the label of "moderate" from some and "second-tier" from others. But the former ambassador to China, appointed by Barack Obama, has also earned conservative praise when it comes to guns and taxes, and presided as Utah's governor as it became one of the top job-creating states in the nation. He’s experiencing late momentum in New Hampshire, while still polling at about 3 percent nationally.

In a profile from The American Conservative, Michael Brendan Dougherty wrote: "In Jon Huntsman's America, once a child survives the first trimester, he's well on the way to having a rifle in his small hands and extra money in his pockets. If this qualifies as moderate, why be conservative?"

The Basics:

Huntsman was the subject of magazine features from two high-profile sources: Matt Bai at the New York Times and Chris Jones at Esquire. Bai followed his profile with a question and answer session with readers. The Boston Globe recently endorsed him, a boon to his chances in neighboring New Hampshire.

His campaign made headlines with a single tweet aimed at Gov. Rick Perry's skepticism of evolution: "To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." He explained to ABC News' Jake Tapper that becoming the "anti-science party" will damage Republicans' chances in 2012 and beyond. He said in December that "there are questions about the validity of the [climate change] science," but that he wasn't walking back on previous comments.

He supported a 2009 effort to allow civil unions in Utah, despite 70-percent opposition from voters. He said in 2009 that the $787 billion stimulus package "wasn't large enough" and accepted the money for Utah. He initially supported cap-and-trade plans as governor. He signed a bill that gave driving privileges to illegal immigrants and once said the idea of a fence "repulses" him.

Such departures from the Republican field have prompted comparisons to John McCain, but also caused others to predict early on that his chances would be slim. Nate Silver's "Unacceptability Index," which measures how many Republican voters would refuse to vote for a candidate, had him the second-most unacceptable candidate in June, ahead of only Gary Johnson.

But he has strong conservative footing in tax policy, where the CATO Institute gave him its highest grade in a 2006 report card for governors (but said he "dropped the ball on spending" in its 2008 report). The Club for Growth, which promotes economic conservatism, gave him mostly negative marks in its Presidential White Paper, but did praise him on taxes. He now supports revenue-neutral tax reform, and told PBS NewsHour he "wouldn't hesitate to call on a sacrifice from all of our people, even those at the very highest end of the income spectrum," possibly through means testing Medicare and Social Security. He expanded on those thoughts with Neil Cavuto of Fox News, where he pledged he would not support more taxes, even on the wealthy.

He's been subject to many wisecracks about being the second-most popular Mormon in the GOP field behind Mitt Romney. He told Fortune Magazine that he is not "overly religious" and gets "satisfaction from many different types of religions and philosophies."

His Record:

Huntsman won re-election as governor in 2008 with 78 percent of the vote, enjoyed a peak of 90-percent approval, and maintained an 80-percent mark after the unpopular civil unions issue. The Salt Lake Tribune highlights some of the policies and initiatives that led to Utah's high job creation under his governorship. Huntsman enacted tax cuts and reforms that include establishing a 5 percent income tax (he and others often call it a flat tax, a claim PolitiFact rated as mostly true). Huntsman has claimed Utah was the top job-producing state, but PolitiFact declared that to be half-true.

He signed NRA-supported self-defense laws that eliminated some concealed-carry restrictions and allowed guns to travel more freely on Utah's roads. He led a fight to revamp the state's restrictive liquor laws. He favors a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Politico reported that Huntsman didn't appear to have a preference on individual mandates in Utah's health care reform, which has been hailed by conservatives. But the Huffington Post reported that he did favor a mandate, and he said in a 2007 news conference that "I am comfortable with a requirement. You can call it whatever you want, but at some point we're going to have to get serious with how we deal with this issue."

Huntsman has said intervention in Libya was not essential for U.S. security interests and called for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Foreign Policy wrote that "China hands who have dealt with him and studied his tenure as U.S. envoy to Beijing give him high marks -- both diplomatically and politically." In its summary of his foreign policy credentials, the magazine said he "arguably has the most foreign-policy experience of any Republican candidate."

Relationship with Obama:

The Daily Beast noted that Obama's appointment of Huntsman to the China ambassadorship may have been a strategic move to eliminate a 2012 threat. Indeed, their relationship has been a political weight on Huntsman; he once called Obama "a remarkable leader" in a private letter that later surfaced. Melinda Henneberger noted in a 2011 Time profile: "Democrats who fear that Huntsman would do well against Obama in next year's general election are busy pelting him with rose petals -- take that, you wonderful man! -- that they openly hope will disqualify him in the eyes of Republican Party regulars."

The New York Times reported that Obama's advisers suspect Huntsman wasn't up-front regarding his presidential ambitions. In his Esquire profile, Chris Jones argued that Huntsman scares Obama more than Mitt Romney.

Somewhere along the way, Huntsman and his team of advisors -- led by former John McCain campaign strategist John Weaver -- have decided that they can win a presidential campaign, can win two campaigns, in fact, by distancing themselves from rhetoric, from fire. They believe Huntsman's best quality is his dispassion, his realism, his ability to boil the emotion out of everything and leave only reason behind.

Following the Money:

Huntsman had raised $4.5 million as of Sept. 30, 2011, according to He also has assets between $17.8 million and $84 million, according to a disclosure report filed in May. Though he pledged he wouldn't self-finance, CNN reported in June that he had spent almost $2 million of his own money.

OpenSecrets wrote that Huntsman has a "mixed record of political contributions." His finance team in South Carolina drew notice for its Democratic supporters.

The pro-Huntsman Our Destiny PAC, which has aired commercials in New Hampshire that are sharply critical of Romney, has been working to keep its donors secret. It has spent more than $1.86 million.

I am independent, but I like John a lot.

I see that John is the only candidate, who is qualified for this job. Mitt Romney does not have arguments to beat Obama. If unemployment rate will go down to 7.5% Romney will not have anything to offer besides promises. Obama used Romney’s health care system, thus Mitt cannot use this argument against Obama. He can make money for himself, but when he was governor he was not able to do it for people of Massachusetts. He escaped from the state not to be humiliated. What is the reason for voting for Romney, his promises? I do not think so.

I’m also independent, but my jury is still out on Huntsman. He has some good positions, and his honesty is a nice change.

What I don’t understand is why the Republican power brokers have ignored Huntsman. Last summer, I believe, the Obama folks publicly admitted the only Republican candidate they fear to run against is Huntsman. That admission alone, it seems to me, should place him in serious contention.

There is a very vocal social conservative minority in the Republican party that seems to have hijacked the primary process. If they get their wish and help get someone nominated like Santorum, Obama will be able to return with ease, no matter the economy. I could see not only the rank and file Repubs getting behind Huntsman, but independents too, assuming no hidden skeletons are unearthed.

As an independent I pray that the republicans wake up to the advantage they have in Huntsman as a likely winner against Obama. Foremost he is a logical and reasonable thinker. He isn’t burdened with hysterical right wing dogma and most important he will carry the republican party into the 21st century. Something they desperately have failed to do.

I will write in his name before, I would vote for any of the other clowns running on the republican ticket. We have serious problems and we need a leader who understands that we no longer can survive on the blather of “exceptional-ism,  isolationism, religious and moral hypocrisy by denying the FACTS surrounding our climate and human rights for all. The benchmark has been shoved to the floor by Bush and now we have Obama slivering under it. We need honest and efficient government and less of it. Reality is that we need government and in the past it has served us well. Balance is what is needed today. Face it, roads, schools, municipals services, e.g., police and fire departments are paid by our taxes to serve all.

We need to work together to take care of our pressing problems and go after the real criminals and traitors who have hijacked our economy and democracy. It is time to bring to a close the plutocracy that is sending us down the drain. All it requires is to stop, take a deep breath and let go of hatred and ignorance and think. Imagine thinking, most people do less of it than even exercising!

Another Independent -, me - would never vote for Huntsman.  He lost me when he supported the Paul Ryan plan to turn Medicare into a worthless voucher program, advocated privatizing Social Security, said he wants Rove v. Wade repealed (we are one right wing nut away from a Supreme Court slanted to the far right for a generation), and no tax increases on the rich, forever.  He’s a nut.  The only “good” thing about him is he isn’t as certifiable as the rest of the GOP candidates.

Farrell S. Seiler

Jan. 9, 2012, 1:46 p.m.

9 Jan 2012

Jon Huntsman does not deny climate change, per se, but proposes no solutions either. Here, in New Hampshire, he often cites the opaque air pollution in Beijing, but then wants to handicap the EPA from enforcing clean air regulations. (Remember his Iowa debate comment about the EPA’s “reign of terror?)

Moderates and conservative NH Republicans are so desperate for a reasonable primary candidate, they are overlooking Huntsman’s pro-fossil fuel proposals (expedited oil drilling in the Gulf & Alaska, approval of the Canadian oil sands pipeline, full deployment of gas fracking).

His energy plan says not a word about energy conservation, energy efficiency or renewable energy.

Huntsman is the “least bad” GOP primary candidate, but should be supported because there are so few Republicans willing to acknowlege global warming at all — the first step toward confronting the challenges of climate change. Someday, a Republican president will do something more about global warming than pay lip service to its existence.

Given such dismal primary candidates, as a conservative New Hampshire Republican, I will vote for Huntsman tomorrow. But no promises in November.

—Farrell S. Seiler, Chair
New Hampshire Republicans for Climate
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Thanks, Max and Seiler.

I didn’t have that info. I am still referring to the least of all evils, understanding that there is no such thing as the least of any evils. However, I am so willing to fight Huntsman on these issues than have to put up with the four more years of the nefarious back door deals that this administration has and will continue to exploit e.g., the pipeline after the elections the continuance of oil drilling in the gulf and the proposed drilling off the Alaska coast. We know that the Obamacare will eventually wipe out medicare, besides the myriad of loop holes in it to justify just about anything the government wants to do to continue the corruption in billing and contractor deals. WS anyone. Forgiven debts to Detroit? Well you can fill in the rest yourselves. Obama has back tracked and betrayed his very campaign promises. Are we suffering from Stockholm syndrome?

We need to start somewhere short of pitch forks and torches. I admit it is a one party system with two heads, but heck let’s get this unfortunate disaster out of the WH!!

Maurice Rogers

Jan. 9, 2012, 2:53 p.m.

You completely ignored Huntsman’s jobs under previous presidents.  I don’t think he can win the nomination (even with Daddy funding the superpac), but if he does, I think he’ll be our next president.

Make mine Buddy!

Independent here as well and Huntsman is clearly the strongest in that trail of chuckle heads, IMO. His honesty and ability to separate Fiscal conservatism from social conservatism and add progression social views are what really pull him ahead. We want to be smart with our money and move forward as a people.

Guns and taxes. Interesting combination. Why is there no “sin tax” on guns and ammunition? Guns costs local governments as much if not more money than cigarettes or alcohol? Cities should levy heavy taxes on guns and ammunition to cover medical costs they have to pay to care for gunshot victims.

Cities like San Francisco where citizens voted to limit gun sales spend millions in court fighting the NRA. They should levy heavy taxes on them instead.

I don’t know about the rest (I seem to remember a dispassionate candidate four years ago who was against the wars, and look where that got us…), but rifle-armed fetus militias sound awesome!

Mr. Huntsman is proof that if you underestimate Obama’s political acumen, you do so at your own peril.

Jon Huntsman’s Illuminati Ways!

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