Former Governor Jon Huntsman is suffering from a case of always-the-bridesmaid-never-the-bride syndrome. He has watched as nearly every other GOP presidential candidate has taken a spin with frontrunner Mitt Romney.
First Tea Party darlings Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry had their chance to dance around the floor. Then Herman Cain was delivered into the spotlight with his economics-by-mnemonics plan. Now Newt Gingrich has stepped in for his match with Romney.
All the while, Huntsman has remained a wallflower. The man without an expense account at Tiffany’s or extramarital skeletons in his closet can’t get any love.
Maybe that’s why he tried flirting with the Tea Party crowd this week.
For months, Huntsman has been the voice of reason in a chorus of denial. Back in August, he famously tweeted: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
But in a speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday, Huntsman started to hedge. When asked if he thought climate change was caused by human activity. He replied: “I don't know -- I'm not a scientist, nor am I a physicist. But I would defer to science in that discussion. And I would say that the scientific community owes us more in terms of a better description or explanation about what might lie beneath all of this. But there's not enough information right now to be able to formulate policies in terms of addressing it overall.”
The reaction was instant: the blogosphere lit up with reports of this apparent reversal on an issue that has become a conservative litmus test. The next day, Huntsman was out trying to set the record straight.
“Let me be very clear on this,” he said. “There is no change. I put my faith and trust in science. So you have 99 of 100 climate scientists who have come out and talked about climate change in certain terms, what is responsible for it. I tend to say this is a discussion that should not be in the political lane but should be in the scientific lane.”
Either Huntsman’s words were genuinely taken out of context or the response to those words made him realize he has more to lose than gain by toying with the Tea Party.
Huntsman knows the White House will be won with the help of independent voters, not the radical fringe. In August, Huntsman called Governor’s Perry’s climate denial a “serious problem” for the GOP. He told ABC news in August: “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.”
Huntsman has built his brand on this reasoned approach. He is the experienced businessman, governor, and ambassador who projects an air of calm, assured leadership. The trouble is so does Romney, and in a race for the White House, you only need one business leader with moderate leanings. Romney staked out this ground first, and Huntsman will have a hard time pushing him aside.
With Huntsman standing in Romney’s shadow, the public hasn’t gotten a chance to learn as much about him as I would like. He hasn’t been put to the scrutiny that the other rivals for Romney’s spot have been given, and I think that’s shame.
I would like to find more about the single GOP candidate who respects climate science, for on this issue, Huntsman actually represents a majority of independent and Republican voters.
A recent Pew poll found that 63 percent of independent voters agree there is solid evidence of rising temperatures. And more than six-in-ten moderate and liberal Republicans say there is solid evidence of global warming, up from 41 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, 65 percent of all Americans agree that climate change is a very serious problem facing the nation.
Huntsman seems to understand this, and that’s why I hope he gets his chance to be a GOP bride.