Jon Huntsman and the Evolution of the “Moderate” Label

GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has signed several bills restricting abortion, and he supports a right to life amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He supports building a fence on the Mexican border. He supports the death penalty. He governed Utah when it was named the most favorable state for business. He not only supports school vouchers, he actually signed a school voucher bill into law. He opposes an assault weapon ban. He wants to slash the authority of the EPA and NLRB. He opposes the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate. He wants to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit to dramatically increase taxes on the poor. At the same time, he proposes drastically cutting tax rates on the wealthiest Americans and corporations.

If you polled Americans and asked them how they would describe the political philosophy of a candidate holding those positions, they surely would say that candidate is very conservative. After all, Huntsman’s positions are at least as conservative as McCain, Bush 2, Dole, Bush 1, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, and Goldwater.

But despite Governor Huntsman’s strongly conservative record, the rigorous 90-second Google analysis I conducted today reveals that Huntsman is more likely to be described on the Internet and in the news as “moderate Jon Huntsman” than “conservative Jon Huntsman,” by an overwhelming 8-to-1 margin.

I understand that Huntsman is usually labeled a moderate because he is the most moderate person in the 2012 GOP presidential field, a radically conservative line-up. But still, it’s remarkable to see how far news reporters, bloggers and the general public have shifted their definition of “moderate” to the right as the Republicans Party has moved rapidly to the far right.

– Loveland

21 thoughts on “Jon Huntsman and the Evolution of the “Moderate” Label

  1. This was kind of an eye opener, Joe, seeing his very conservative positions pulled together. It’s come to the point where a candidate who seems to have half a brain and any worldliness about them, in this pack, somehow just feels like what a moderate like me (with a left tilt) would take to be a moderate. Huntsman is fluent in Mandarin, for God’s sake, a word that the other candidates would probably guess to be some kind of tropical fruit, and has that China experience and worked for Obama. That was beginning to make him a moderate in my mind but for sure it does underscore how far right the others are.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      To be fair, I wasn’t being completely fair. To make my point, I was pulling out conservative issues, but not listing the moderate positions Huntsman undeniably holds, such as on cap-and-trade (though again, this was a market-based conservative idea until the Gore embraced it, at which time the GOP villified it).

      But still, Ronald Reagan would have positively shocked out America had he had said he wanted to build a fence on the Mexican border and eliminate the EITC. If he had taken those positions, there would have been no one calling Reagan a “moderate.”

      1. Joe Loveland says:

        That’s certainly a fair request, Erik. I generally try to document major claims, but frankly I don’t always have time.

        In addition to the article PM shared, here is another cite from Politifact:

        “…the “cap and trade” concept was pioneered by Republicans.

        MIT economics professor Richard Schmalensee and Harvard Kennedy School government professor Robert Stavins noted in July that Ronald Reagan used a “cap-and-trade” system to phase out leaded gasoline and George H.W. Bush established a “cap-and-trade” system that reduced the sulfur dioxide emissions that cause acid rain.

        In 2003, McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Joe Lieberman, then a Democrat from Connecticut, introduced the “Climate Stewardship Act,” which would have used a similar cap-and-trade approach to reduce carbon pollution linked to global warming. Versions of the bill were reintroduced in 2005 and 2007.”

      2. Erik says:

        Myopically, I was demanding an example that Republicans originationed carbon cap and trade (not sulfur, not leaded gas). These are substantive responses though, and highlight my objection to the “Republicans thought of it first” meme just as well.

        Obviously, you can support cap and trade mechanisms for some uses but object to it on carbon for qualitative reasons. You’d be engaging in lazy fallacy to say otherwise. For Republicans, those reasons are:

        – We’re not experiencing catastrophic AGW. Cost / benefit.
        – Carbon cap and trade is a rent creating / seeking, patronage scheme meant to benefit the Democrat party.
        – Carbon cap and trade places onerous taxes on the American consumer.
        – Carbon cap and trade places onerous taxes on American business. India and China are not going to levee similar taxes on their businesses.

        That Al Gore supports it is an example of a qualitative reason, but only insofar as Gore is a moron. IE, he’s a key indicator of a non-serious position to take.

      3. PM. says:

        Citation, please on :

        “Carbon cap and trade is a rent creating / seeking, patronage scheme meant to benefit the Democrat party.”

      4. Erik says:

        That might be my weakest example. I don’t think you and I are going to reach consensus on AGW / carbon cap and trade, and thus I’m not actually trying to assert the merits of various points. Except to say, these represent legitimate critiques, “scientific consensus” be damned. It is one critique among a few that are quite reasonable. I mean really… in green energy can you find me an example that’s not a Democrat rent / patronage scheme?

      5. PM. says:

        As personal assertions, by all means, swing away.

        Personally, while i do think that global warming is happening, I am not certain that stopping global warming is the smartest or best thing that we could be doing. I happen to think that there are other, more important development priorities that we should pursue first (safe drinking water around the world, for example) that have more certain benefits and lower costs. If we are going to go after global warming, then something like a carbon tax is probably the best way to do it–utilizing effective methods that have worked in similar situations.

        In that sense, i would disagree with your general point about carbon cap and trade–the methodology is conservative and market oriented, and has been applied by conservatives to similar (environmental) problems, and has worked well. That is sufficient to establish its conservative bona fides, and to serve as effective proof of conservative hypocrisy –opposing this solely because people they do not like are now advocating this methodology.

      6. Erik says:

        I stipulate prior support of carbon cap and trade is required to prove hypocrisy and gamesmanship. Not merely the mechanism. And I really can’t think of much more than tepid Republican support for carbon cap and trade when it was a little trendy. McCain. T-Paw. So I do think the rightward drift of Republican moderateness is a bit overstated such that it ever existed in the first place.

        My other objection is a word thing. I don’t regard creating and propping up a fake market for something that otherwise has no intrinsic value (carbon credits) to be a “market based approach”. Nor “conservative.” But I am more of a literalist than some.

      7. PM. says:

        The problem Erik (and it is a well established problem in economics) is that there is not a market for pollution in general–this is the problem of externalities in economics, and it is one of the failures of capitalism/economics in general. markets simply do not account for everything–opportunities for profits are dealt with by the markets, while pollution (and other negative byproducts) are simply dumped on the public at large–they are not factored into the markets. This is the “tragedy of the commons” problem. Cap and trade is an example of how you use markets to factor in the negative externalities to a pricing system. The other option is government regulation, or just ignoring the problem and then using tax revenues to deal with it–socialize the solution, so that everyone pays for it.

      8. Erik says:

        That’s all a bit beside the point, but I understand all that and agree.

        I quibble over whether ‘cap and trade’ is conservative merely because there’s a market mechanism. I don’t doubt the origins you have described, but there’s a fallacious hint of “this is not what the command and control progressives would have preferred, so it must actually be the conservative option. Therefore conservatives should support it.”

        It follows that I would reject that conservatives tempt hypocrisy if they are against cap and trade methodologies. These are not emblematic of conservative ideals, and we can have qualitative reasons for rejecting various trade schemes while embracing others. If the Obama administration were to fight obesity by authorizing permits to buy food, whereby consumers could surplus unused permits and sell them….I think we’d have a fresh basis to object even if Reagan capped and traded leaded gas in the past.

        Here’s the big thing… when McCain or T-Paw, et al, made cap and trade overtures in the past, they weren’t pandering to the conservative base. We (and I include myself as “the base” with great hesitation) never embraced those moderate positions. So I’d assert you are errant to conclude that the rightward drift of the GOP’s moderateness is a function of opposing Obama. It is not. The formerly moderate appeal of those positions has been dissolved by circumstance.

        More than that, I do think we’re universally unmoved when told we’re guilty of some hypocrisy. You may enjoy pointing it out. I don’t happen to think it’s true. But it’s most certainly not a rhetorical winner.

      9. PM. says:

        OK, I am willing to concede that if you do not believe in global warming it is hard to really be hypocritical about any method to solve it, no matter how conservative it might be (I do find it hard not to believe in global warming, but that is another debate entirely).
        What about the hypocrisy of opposing Obama’s health insurance mandate, after having proposed/supported a health insurance mandate yourself, in the past? After all, Romney, Gingrich, Perry and Huntsman have all supported some form of health care related mandates in the past. (

        Are conservatives or republicans bothered by that sort of hypocrisy?

      10. PM. says:

        Oh, and here is another example–7 republican Congressmen who signed a letter to the super committee asking that “everything be kept on the table” (eg., tax increases) to ensure the possibility of a deal that will reduce the budget, and who then signed another letter to the super committee demanding that no tax increases of an y sort even be considered?

        Is that hypocrisy or just inconsistency?

  2. Fair enough and yeah, his border fence, on the Mexico side of all things, is pretty astounding. Wouldn’t win him in love here in Texas where a lot of rich conservative “Texicans” –and Texas actually has a lot of those–get really sensitive about fences and immigration issues, as even Senor Perry knows to be a political reality here.

    1. Joe Loveland says:

      If it’s any consolation, Huntsman is “repulsed” by his position on that issue:

      “I hate the thought of a fence on the border. I mean, for me, as an American, the thought of a fence to some extent repulses me, because it is not consistent with … the image that we projected from the very beginning to the rest of the world,” Huntsman said during a town hall meeting here Saturday evening.

      “But the situation is such today that I don’t think we have a choice, and before we begin the conversation of processing 11 or 12 million undocumented workers, we’ve got to secure the border,” he said.

      Huntsman said border security will require the use of a physical fence, as well as technology.”

  3. Newt says:

    “…the 2012 GOP presidential field, a radically conservative line-up…”

    You need to leave your tent at OWS and circulate a little more. This line-up skews left-center, if anything.

    1. PM. says:

      I was thinking that it skews more towards the foolish and incompetent, but I suppose that is simply my liberal bias showing.

      Even so, how does one explain all of the various gaffes, etc, that seem to be plaguing the Republican field? Why is it that so many of the Republican candidates seem to agree with Herman Cain that they really should not be expected to know things (like foreign policy)? Why is this all so eerily reminiscent of Sarah Palin?

  4. PM. says:

    an excerpt that illustrates joe’s point:

    “It was not so long ago that Texas governor Bush denounced attempts to cut the earned-income tax credit as “balancing the budget on the backs of the poor.” By 2011, Republican commentators were noisily complaining that the poorer half of society are “lucky duckies” because the EITC offsets their federal tax obligations—or because the recession had left them with such meager incomes that they had no tax to pay in the first place. In 2000, candidate Bush routinely invoked “churches, synagogues, and mosques.” By 2010, prominent Republicans were denouncing the construction of a mosque in lower Manhattan as an outrageous insult. In 2003, President Bush and a Republican majority in Congress enacted a new ­prescription-drug program in Medicare. By 2011, all but four Republicans in the House and five in the Senate were voting to withdraw the Medicare guarantee from everybody under age 55. Today, the Fed’s pushing down interest rates in hopes of igniting economic growth is close to treason, according to Governor Rick Perry, coyly seconded by TheWall Street Journal. In 2000, the same policy qualified Alan Greenspan as the “greatest central banker in the history of the world,” according to Perry’s mentor, Senator Phil Gramm. Today, health reform that combines regulation of private insurance, individual mandates, and subsidies for those who need them is considered unconstitutional and an open invitation to “death panels.” A dozen years ago, a very similar reform was the Senate Republican alternative to Hillarycare. Today, stimulative fiscal policy that includes tax cuts for almost every American is “socialism.” In 2001, stimulative fiscal policy that included tax cuts for rather fewer Americans was an economic­-recovery program.”


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