LOS ANGELES, December 27, 2011 — At the Republican Jewish Coalition 2012 Presidential Candidates Forum, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman … well, he showed up. Like his entire campaign, nobody knows why.
His entire remarks are below (from minutes 46 through 118).
Of all the candidates in the race, Jon Huntsman is the most frustrating. When he was done announcing several months ago that he was running for president, most people still could not figure out why.
During the debates, he had a habit of resorting to meaningless platitudes, occasionally taking well over the allotted time to answer questions, if he managed to answer them at all.
He managed to speak to a Republican Jewish group with a healthy concern about Israel and Iran by mentioning the former once very briefly in passing and the latter not at all. This was not a case of his record speaking for itself. He entered with people knowing little about him and left the same way.
Time is a precious commodity. Every second should be precious, and Jon Huntsman has a habit of devouring people’s time and giving nothing in return. He thinks that what he says matters just because he says it, and spends a lot of time saying a lot of it. Simply put, he seems as in love with himself and his own voice as the current failed president.
If Huntsman is going to make a case for firing Barack Obama, he needs to make the case why he is a valid alternative. He doesn’t do that. Instead he tries to sound cool. A teenager whose dad came home in sagging pants, a baseball cap on backwards, and quoting gangsta rap lyrics would not think this was cool. He would be embarrassed and beg his dad never to talk to his friends. Jon Huntsman is that dad.
Running for the highest office in the land is not an audition at the Laugh Factory. If one is going to make jokes in a political speech, those jokes should actually be funny.
Yes, this is a harsh assessment of Governor Huntsman, but it does not matter how good a person’s ideas are alone. Likability matters, and Governor Huntsman immediately began with several remarks showing why he irks people that he is trying to win over.
“If I speak a little bit with a New Hampshire accent, you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve been spending a little bit of time there.”
This was not funny. He was speaking to Jews in Washington, DC. They wanted substance.
He has seven children, one adopted from China and one from India. That’s irrelevant, but he chose to mention it.
“I am not going to pander.”
This does not need to be said. Saying this is pandering.
“I am not going to contort myself into a pretzel.”
But he did.
“I am not going to sign those silly pledges.”
What he means is that he does not want to tell people where he stands. He is referring mainly to the pledge not to raise taxes. Those “silly” pledges matter to many people. If he is in favor of raising taxes, or at least keeping it as an option, he should say why.
“I will not go to a Don Trump debate either.”
This is what makes many people cringe. The audience was not interested in nonsense. This is inside baseball. The point is to talk about issues, and referring to Donald Trump as “Don” was disrespectful. The Utah Governor would not like it if he were referred to as “Johnny Huntsman.” Trump has a record of actual achievement. People know where he stands, even when they disagree with him. Governor Huntsman is capable of offering substance, but by the time he gets down to business he has already irritated people who paid a good amount of money to be there and want serious offerings for their paid attendance.
He said that he is running because we are handing down a nation to the next generation that is not as good as the one we inherited. We have no leadership.
He referred to the economic deficit as “a cancer that has metastasized.”
This is where Huntsman was at his best. He gave clear specifics.
He stated that he liked the economic plan put forth by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. He cannot stand spending 25% of GDP. America must get back to 19%.
“I want to do for my country what I did for my state.”
Most people outside of Utah have no idea what he did, but he let the audience know of some of his achievements. In two years Utah delivered a flat tax to the voters. This allowed Utah to triple its rainy day fund and helped get unemployment down to 2.4%.
This was good, but then he went professorial, meandering about “the Koretsu system of structuring loans.” He did not bother to mention what that was.
Huntsman then pointed to what he calls the “deficit of trust.” Congress has an 8% approval rating. We have a president who cannot lead. There is no trust toward Wall Street, with banks too big to fail.
“We need term limits in Congress.”
While this sounds good, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal term limits as unconstitutional. To get legislation passed that would pass judicial muster would require the very members of congress to agree to limit their own jobs. The only other approach is a Constitutional amendment.
Huntsman also wants to close the revolving door allowing members of congress to to become lobbyists. This leads to deeper cynicism. Again, this is inside baseball. At the risk of offending people who get easily offended, voters do not care about campaign finance reform or other issues that only affect people living in the Beltway. People care about a crashing economy and possible world war.
Governor Huntsman’s solution was “docking or lessening their pay until they can balance the deficit.”
This would never happen. It feels good to say it, but it is an utterly useless sop that just wastes time.
He would end corporate welfare, eliminate subsidies, repeal Obamacare, and repeal Dodd-Frank. “Dodd-Frank gives rise to to big to fail.”
Governor Huntsman does not like discussing foreign policy, which is a problem given that he was speaking to an audience with significant interest in global conflagrations. Therefore, he tossed in one passionless throwaway line to the audience.
“We stand with Israel. Today there is ambiguity. Under my administration those days will be gone.”
He then stopped. He added nothing to explain what that even meant.
“Our foreign policy has a little Cold War Overhang, a little George Cannon mindset from 1946, know what I mean?”
Nobody had any idea what he meant.
He questioned American troops in Germany and Afghanistan. Then he offered a remark that he may not have known was dripping with irony.
“We have no foreign policy.”
Neither does he. If he does, he will not say what it is.
“We have to fix our core, our values, and our economy.”
That is a bumper sticker.
We need “a foreign policy led first and foremost by economics.”
No. We need a foreign policy based on world conditions, which often involves unexpected events.
He did express support for free trade, one of his few moments of clarity. Yet once the topic veers away from economics, he is a deer in the headlights. This does not seem to be a lack of knowledge. In his case it comes across as outright reluctance to offer positions that may be unpopular. This is the epitome of focus group, poll-tested, pandering, exactly what he protested in the beginning that he was not going to engage in.
“We have a problem called terror, whether it is in Southwest Asia or Southeast Asia.”
Asia? Somebody should do a Jon Huntsman imitation and try to sound cool by making an obscure remark. Asia is a 1980s glam rock band. They sang “Heat of the Moment.”
Terror is not an Asian issue. It is a Middle Eastern issue, and is being conducted by people Jon Huntsman would not mention even once.
“Nothing happens from a foreign policy standpoint until we get our core fixed in this nation.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. The world does not allow for this view. Many presidents from LBJ to Barack Obama have tried to ignore the world and focus on the homeland. This does not work. Conversely, focusing only on foreign policy and ignoring domestic policy is problematic as well.
Governor Huntsman does understand China. He spent time living in China, which he reminds people of as often as John Kerry reminds people that he served in Vietnam. Governor Huntsman’s knowledge of China is very impressive, but he tends to use that knowledge as a security blanket. When serious problems occur involving Middle Eastern countries that he does not know about or understand, he brings the conversation back to China rather than address those other nations.
Governor Huntsman does understand that part of the threat from China is overblown. China is on its way down because its hyper-growth is going to slow. Unemployment will rise, leading to greater political uncertainty. Huntsman clearly grasps that the investment dollars going to China are looking for alternatives. We need to fix our competitive environment.
Governor Huntsman then summoned his inner Jimmy Carter.
“We are in a funk. We are in a deep funk. We are dispirited. We are dejected. We have no leadership and no confidence.”
This was not exactly the Ronald Reagan “Morning in America” approach.
Governor Huntsman accurately pointed out that President Obama won on hope in 2008, proving you can win the presidency on a mantra. That doesn’t guarantee you can lead. Nobody cares anymore. People have tuned out.
The problem is that these valid criticisms of Barack Obama apply equally perfectly to Jon Huntsman. His presentation included long stretches that lacked anything remotely resembling substance.
He did not mention Iran once. Some candidates favor sanctions against Iran, some are against them. With Governor Huntsman, the questions was, why he did not even talk about it?
He started by mentioning that he has “no closer friend than the Israeli Ambassador to China.” Then he delved into Iran.
“The transcendent issue in the next decade is Iran and their desire to seek nuclear status.”
How can this be when he went his entire speech without mentioning Iran? He just rambled, moving his mouth but saying nothing.
He pointed out that Iran analyzed North Korea and Libya. “We can talk about sanctions, layer additional sanctions.” We need “specific language in security council resolutions, not flowery language.”
Huntsman is all about flowery language. That is the main criticism of him. What specific language would he like to see? Nobody knows.
He brought up the idea that sanctions could involved companies trading with Iran and banks handling the money. One problem with sanctions is that it is “difficult to get the Chinese and Russians on board.”
Of course it is difficult. Yet what is more difficult is finding out exactly what Jon Huntsman stands for. What would he do?
He mentioned, regarding Israel and Iran, that things are getting so serious that in one to three years, it will be necessary to have a conversation asking people who they are with or against.
One to three years? No. The conversation needs to be held now. That is the point of having an election. We don’t pass bills to find out what is in them and we don’t have an election so that a conversation can be had. The way things work is that candidates running for president tell voters why they want the job, what they want to accomplish, and how they plan to do it. This is called having core beliefs.
Governor Huntsman eventually said that he “cannot live with nuclear proliferation.” The consequences would be disastrous.
Fine. What would he actually do?
After pulling teeth, finally he conceded that “all options are on the table.”
He should have said that in the beginning. This gets back to the idea that time is not valuable to him or those he is dodging.
One person asked about the anti-Semitic comments made by the Ambassador to Belgium. Would Huntsman fire the ambassador? All the questioner wanted to know is what he would do. Again, Huntsman would not answer the question.
The incident “reflects President Obama’s ambiguity.”
Good. What is the solution?
“Somebody should ask for an explanation in full.”
The buck stops somewhere, unless it does not.
“Who is responsible for the language?”
The person who said it is responsible. Governor Huntsman was trying to place blame on whomever approved the language. Blaming speechwriters is useless. Politicians are responsible for everything that is uttered in their name.
“You could recall the ambassador but it is better to find out who higher up is responsible for the language.”
The utter uselessness that was the question and non-answer session became even clearer when one questioner asked a serious question about whether Governor Huntsman blamed Palestinian actions on Israeli mistakes. This was a clear question that deserved a crystal clear answer either way. Governor Huntsman would not offer anything resembling a coherent answer.
“I am not sure where that language comes from.”
He then showed it is mathematically possible to offer less than nothing.
“Look at my policy platform and what I have talked about.”
This is where people should tear their hair out. He has no noticeable policy platform and did not talk about this issue in his entire speech. Saying that he talked about something does not make it so.
He then concluded with pandering, as he was notified that it was time to leave the stage. Naturally, he had to say just one or two more things.
“I will not try to force or micromanage the peace process. I stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel.”
Why is Jon Huntsman running for president? What is his foreign policy? What does he actually stand for?
After between twenty and forty minutes of talking to the Republican Jewish Coalition, the answer is that nobody knows.
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