Crouching Moderate, Hidden Romney Killer?

Gingrich’s meteoric rise in the polls is a flash in the pan. With the New Hampshire primary only a month away, serious consideration must be given to whom right-leaning students should cast their ballots for. Since the up-close look students were able to get last October, Herman Cain has dropped out, Rick Perry has faded, and while Mitt Romney still clings to a lead in the Granite State, his road to the nomination is looking increasingly evitable.

Somehow, through the bizarre churning process that is the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary, Newt Gingrich has battled his way to the top of the heap, just a few months after being abandoned by most of his staffers. The cause of his rise is straightforward: Conservatives do not trust Mitt Romney’s conservative credentials and keep looking for an alternative, but each has come up wanting. Bachmann was judged too loony, Perry was a lackluster debater, and Herman Cain was dogged by a few too many allegations of both sexual indiscretion and political cluelessness. With all of them flaming out, Gingrich has neatly slipped in as the next anointed one.

It will not last.

 


 

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While Gingrich’s brusque style in debates gives many Republicans a visceral pleasure, it is highly unlikely that his candidacy can withstand any sort of sustained focus. He occasionally says things that are utterly insane, such as his promise to ignore the Supreme Court if he disagrees with them. Media coverage will remind voters of Gingrich’s sordid personal history and his numerous mistakes as House Majority Leader, such as the federal government shutdown, which ultimately cost him his job. Most damaging of all, for a candidate carrying the “anybody but Romney” banner, Gingrich is not all that conservative. He championed the hated individual mandate, was a lead campaigner for Bush’s expansion of Medicare, and generally exudes an enthusiasm for big government so typical of the Washington bubble. Even if he can eke out the nomination, six months of constant media coverage will ensure that everybody in America knows his flaws, and they are many.

But, if Gingrich doesn’t cut it, and one still doesn’t trust Romney, than who to support? The utterly baffling answer may be…Jon Huntsman.

Jon Huntsman might be the one to take down Romney. Yes, really. Huntsman had always seemed like the one Republican who absolutely did not have a chance. In a primary election, when conservative credentials are key, Huntsman has insisted on positioning himself as a moderate. With another moderate Mormon ex-governor already in the race, Huntsman could do little to distinguish himself. Even worse, he had the unenviable task of trying to win over a rabidly anti-Obama crowd after having served as Obama’s ambassador to China and writing him gushing love letters from Beijing. All this has kept him buried near the bottom of the polls for the entire campaign, and I and many others had largely ignored him.

While admitting one is wrong is more painful than reading a Stephanie Meyer novel, it may be time to reconsider this avoidance. As many others are starting to point out, Huntsman is not as moderate as he seems. He has supported Paul Ryan’s deficit reduction plan, has a more consistent pro-life record than Romney, attacked No Child Left Behind’s federalization of education, and had a proven record as an efficient executive.

Of course, Huntsman is anything but a perfect savior. He has been mediocre at best in debates and the mere fact that he chose to run as a moderate in this cycle calls his strategic judgment into question. There is also the whole Mormonism issue which has similarly dogged Romney. However, in a GOP field which has been riddled with pretenders and disappointments, he may just be the best option. His beliefs in evolution and global warming provide ironclad protection from being considered a “crazy” by the media, and his moderate demeanor will serve him far better in the general election if he can make it that far.

2012 will be another critical year in American politics, and it is essential that Republicans put forward the best candidate they can. While I can’t go so far as to endorse Huntsman (it’s improper for this blog, and more to the point I’m still trying to decide who to back), conservatives would do well to give him a look and see if their anti-Romney champion was hiding in a most unexpected place.

Blake S. Neff