Huntsman 2016

By Jonathan Bradley in Newcastle, Australia

21 June 2011

Utah Republican and former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

Soon-to-be-official Republican Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is a poor fit for a GOP that is "devoid of ideas" and "gasping for air" — or that's the gist of some comments from Jon Huntsman in 2009. Jonathan Chait thinks Huntsman's 2012 run is laying the groundwork for a more competitive 2016 bid:

It's not like the GOP has moved to the center since then, either. So why is he running now? Almost certainly, Huntsman is hoping to raise his name recognition, run a credible campaign, and then, if and when a prospective Obama reelection prompts the party to move to the center, set himself up as an acceptable candidate for 2016.

I don't know whether that is running through Huntsman's mind. Perhaps he thinks the GOP has reached the limit of its explorations of its constitutency's right wing fringe, and he can be the one to lead it back to power and sanity. As Kevin Drum points out, if this is Huntsman's strategy, it shows an extraordinary amount of self-discipline. But whether Huntsman believes he can win or not, a 2012 campaign is an excellent way to catapult him to the front of the field in 2016.

Unlike Democrats, who are far more susceptible to the thrill of charming newcomers, Republicans have a habit of handing their party's nomination to the candidate next in line. John McCain was a runner-up to George W. Bush in the 2000 primary contest, and sure enough, he got the nod in 2008. 1996 candidate Bob Dole had previously challenged then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988. Ronald Reagan had come close to securing the nomination over Gerald Ford in 1976 and against Richard Nixon in 1968 before winning it in 1980. Nixon himself became the party's nominee after losing the 1960 general election and a contest for the governorship of California in 1962. Democrats will give a shot to a relative newcomer like Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, but Republicans prefer someone who has been through the process once or twice already.

A Jon Huntsman who had been out of politics for eight years might be a hard sell to a Republican primary base in 2016; a Jon Huntsman who's already proved himself in the 2012 nominating contest might be welcomed more warmly. If Huntsman is running this time to set himself up for 2016, it's a smart move. 2016 is a long ways away, and anything could happen between now and then, including a Republican victory in 2012, putting all other contenders off until 2020. All things being equal, however, a smart GOP contender who wants to be president later will run sooner as well.

And as for what all this says about 2012? Well, there are a ton of great reasons Mitt Romney will not receive the nomination, and the Republican party is not currently as welcoming of institutional figures as it has been in the past. Nonethless, Romney has run before. Republicans have been known to look kindly on such activity.

Tags: 2016 Presidential Campaign, Bob Dole, Election 2012, John Mccain, Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, Republican Party, Republican Primary 2012, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan

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