Jon Huntsman launches bid for President

Huntsman offers an optimistic pitch, but his religion and links to Obama could hurt him in the prima

Jon Huntsman has declared his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Against a backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, the former US ambassador to China made his announcement to a smallish crowd of supporters and curious passers-by. His pitch, overall, was optimistic. "I'm from the American west, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky," he declared.

Huntsman pointed to his record as Governor of Utah and - like Romney did in his first two campaign adverts - focused on the US's persistently high unemployment, which will undoubtedly play a major role in 2012.

We must reignite the powerful job creating engine of our economy - the industry, innovation, reliability, and trailblazing genius of Americans and their enterprises -- and restore confidence in our people.

We did many of these things in Utah when I was governor. We cut taxes and flattened rates. We balanced our budget. Worked to maintain our AAA bond rating. When the economic crisis hit, we were ready. And by many accounts we became the best state for business and the best managed state in America. We proved government doesn't have to choose between fiscal responsibility and economic growth. I learned something very important as Governor. For the average American family there is nothing more important than a job.

Unlike his fellow candidates during the first proper Republican debate, Huntsman did not attack Obama directly. The two have had many kind words to say about each other in the past. After one bout of praise, Obama sarcastically remarked:

I'm sure him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.

To deal with this potential issue, however, Huntsman has pitched his candidacy as a civil one, one that will attempt to avoid cheap jibes.

I don't think you need to run down anyone's reputation to run for President. Of course we'll have our disagreements. I respect my fellow Republican candidates. And I respect the President. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who's the better American.

Whether this will continue for long during the primaries - who will want to hear Obama's name kicked and spat upon by potential candidates - remains to be seen.

Huntsman's good relationship with Obama is not his only disadvantage, however. Like Romney, Huntsman is a Mormon candidate, which puts off many American voters - 22 per cent, in fact. Huntsman also starts with very low name recognition, according to the Gallup poll below.

Gallup, 21 June

Not even the right-wing press are that interested in him, according to Politico.

For all the attention Huntsman's gotten from the MSM, his profile in the conservative press has been considerably more muted. Unlike other potential Republican candidates, Huntsman didn't get cover stories in the Weekly Standard or National Review. Fox has mostly ignored him. He's taken some heat from talk radio, but far less than you might expect for a GOP candidate coming out of the Obama administration.

This will change in the first few weeks, but it could be difficult to gain traction without resorting to the cheap "money blurts" favoured by Michelle Bachmann and co.

On the whole, however, Huntsman is a credible candidate with a strong domestic record and - just as importantly - a vat of foreign policy experience, which he concentrates on in his first campaign video. He is a real contender in a Republican race sadly lacking in truly strong candidates. His entry will do the Republican race the world of good.

Watch his full speech below.

 

Photo: Getty
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On Brexit, David Cameron knows exactly what he's doing

It's not a dead cat - it's about disarming the Leave campaign. 

If you’re explaining, you’re losing. That’s the calculation behind David Cameron’s latest entry into the In-Out (or Remain-Leave in new money) battle. The Prime Minister has warned that were Britain to leave the European Union, the migrant camp at Calais – popularly known as “the Jungle” – could move to Britain. But Eurosceptic campaigners have angrily denounced the remarks, saying that there’s little chance of it happening either way.  

Who’s right? My colleague Henry Zeffman has written a handy explainer of the ins and outs of the row, but the short version is: the Eurosceptic campaigners are broadly right.

But the remarks are very far from a gaffe by Downing Street or Cameron, and they aren’t a “dead cat” strategy – where you say something offensive, prompting a debate about that instead of another, trickier issue – either.

Campaigners for Remain have long been aware that immigration remains their glass jaw. The line wheeled out by Cameron has been long-planned. Late last year, senior members of the In campaign discussed what they saw as the danger points for the campaign. The first was a renegotiation that managed to roll back workplace rights, imperilling the support of the Labour party and the trade unions was one – happily avoided by Cameron’s piecemeal deal.

That the deal would be raked over in the press is not considered a risk point. Stronger In has long known that its path to victory does not run through a sympathetic media. The expectation has long been that even substantial concessions would doubtless have been denounced by the Mail, Telegraph and Sun – and no-one seriously expected that Cameron would emerge with a transformative deal. Since well before the general election, the Prime Minister has been gradually scaling back his demands. The aim has always been to secure as many concessions as possible in order to get an In vote – but Downing Street’s focus has always been on the “as possible” part rather than the “securing concessions” bit.

Today’s row isn’t about deflecting attention from a less-than-stellar deal, but about defanging another “risk point” for the In campaign: border control.

Campaign strategists believe they can throw the issue into neutral by casting doubt on Leave’s ability to control borders any better. One top aide said: “Our line is this: if we vote to leave, the border moves from Calais to Dover, it’s that simple.” They are also keen to make more of the fact that Norway has equally high levels of migration from the European Union as the United Kingdom. While In will never “own” the issue of immigration, they believe they can make the battle sufficiently murky that voters will turn to the areas that favour a Remain vote – national security, economic stability, and keeping people in their jobs.

What the row exposes, rather than a Prime Minister under pressure is a politician who knows exactly what he’s doing – and just how vulnerable the lack of a serious heavyweight at the top makes the Leave campaign(s). Most people won't make a judgement based on reading up the minutinae of European treaties, but on a "sniff test" of which side they think is more trustworthy. It's not a fight about the facts - it's a fight about who is more trusted by the public: David Cameron, or Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling or Priti Patel? As one minister said to me: "I like Priti, but the idea that she can go against the PM as far as voters are concerned is ridiculous. Most people haven't heard of her." 

Leave finds itself in a position uncomfortably like that of Labour in the run-up to the election: with Cameron able to paint himself as the only option guaranteeing stability, against a chaotic and muddled alternative. Without a politician, a business figure or even a prominent celebrity who can provide credibility on the level of the Prime Minister, any row about whether or not Brexit increases the chances of more migrants on Britain’s doorsteps helps Remain – and Cameron. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.