In response to my post "Why Jon Huntsman Will Win The Republican Nomination", Abe emailed me with this: "If you get a chance sometime, you may want to write an article on how Huntsman can get the social conservative wing of the party to go along. Although he is pro-life, he did support civil unions in his state. For independents like me that's a plus, but it will hurt him with the religious base."
Good question. George Will wrote this week in the Washington Post that with 'Cool-hand Huntsman' "it is difficult to chart Huntsman’s path to the Republicans’ Tampa convention...." Really? I don't think it is. Here's my answer.
First of all, he was elected as Governor in Utah twice and was popular even as he resigned to become ambassador to China. That is prima facie evidence that he can win among social conservatives, because Utah may well be one of the most socially conservative states in the US. In fact, many conservatives from outside Utah will give Huntsman the 'benefit of the doubt' in this matter simply because he was the governor of Utah. That may be why the former chairman of South Carolinians for Mike Huckabee is reportedly going for Huntsman.
Second, Huntsman doesn't have any divisive or problematic family issues, at least that we know about. He has a good, long-term marriage with many children, which fits the conservative Mormon mold. This again gives him credibility on the culture issue.
Third, social conservatives have always given candidates they like a 'pass' on certain things. For example, Ronald Reagan was divorced and remarried to another actor. You would think that that would be a disqualifying factor for a 'conservative' but apparently it's not. Or take Dick Cheney and his gay daughter. The Cheney's have always supported their daughter, and it apparently never hurt them with conservatives. Sarah Palin had a daughter get pregnant out of wedlock, but that never seemed to hurt her with social conservatives. So social conservatives are not as consistent in this matter as one might think. Whether or not they will give Huntsman a pass on his support for 'civil unions' for gays is a big question mark, but it is possible they will--they did so in Utah.
Fourth, Jon Huntsman has strong fiscal conservative credentials, an understanding of foreign policy, and governing experience. These all speak in his favor. Also, he appeals to the younger generations, with his hopeful, positive, civil approach to the politics, as well as that 'rebel streak' which is appreciated by the younger folks. All this to say, I think he's the most well-rounded candidate in the Republican field right now, and over time--if he pulls the trigger and gets in--will be able to overcome the Romney lead. If he does this, he'll get much of the social and religious right vote, because (1) they won't have anywhere else to go, and (2) they REALLY want to see Obama defeated.
Fifth, as I stated before, Huntsman has the potential support of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, iconic figures on the religious right. Glenn Beck has great affection for the Huntsman family, and Huntsman gave a speech at the 2008 Republican convention introducing Sarah Palin as the VP nominee. These are potential chits that he can hope to collect if he catches fire in the party.
Sixth, there are only a few persons who can win the Republican nomination, and that doesn't include Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, or Newt Gingrich. So the question is: who is the potential nominee that these conservatives might be able to support? I think that it's more likely to be Jon Huntsman than Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, for all the reasons stated above. Add to that a VP choice who would be acceptable to the social conservatives, and you have a winner.
Proviso: there is one big unknown in the room who could suck out the air out if he got in the race, and that person is Jeb Bush. (Chris Christie and Rick Perry are not significant factors, in my opinion, despite what some thing.) The Bush dynasty is still alive and kickin' in our country.