Advancing a Free Society

The Hunt(sman) for Reagan Democrats?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The fact that former Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman will formalize his presidential campaign on Tuesday doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

Huntsman has been sidling into the Republican field since late last year, when he first started dropping hints in interviews that he was mulling a run.

Some contend a campaign was well underway back then – if so, pushing the legal envelope for an active government employee – while Hunstman was still the U.S. ambassador to China.

College commencement addresses in New Hampshire and South Carolina were unsubtle clues as to the man’s ambitions. And now, Tuesday’s kickoff.

As for what Hunstman has to say, look for two things:

  1. Does he lecture his party on the need to move to the political middle?
  2. Does he use the venue – New Jersey’s Liberty State Park, site of Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff on Labor Day, 1980 – to reach out to disaffected “Reagan Democrats”?

As for that first what-if – talking centrism – it’s a conversation that pundits and reporters love.

It’s also a notion that conservative activists detest – witness Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s big weekend speech in New Orleans during which he challenged the GOP right to “stop apologizing” for its beliefs.

Better, for now, that Huntsman let his record do the talking – voters will discover he’s a hybrid of pro-life, pro-guns, pro-civil unions, favors in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, and sends mixed messages on cap-and-trade and healthcare mandates – and save the electability discussion for if/when he emerges as an alternative to Mitt Romney and Michele Bachman.

What, then, should Hunstman say? That’s simple: take Reagan’s remarks from September 1, 1980, replace the “Jimmy Carter” references with “Barack Obama” and let ‘er rip.

Consider this passage from the Reagan speech (which you can view here – part one and part two):

I have talked with unemployed workers all across this country. I have heard their views on what Jimmy Carter has done to them and their families.

They aren't interested in semantic quibbles. They are out of work and they know who put them out of work. And they know the difference between a recession and a depression.

Let Mr. Carter go to their homes, look their children in the eye and argue with them that in is "only" a recession that put dad or mom out of work.

Let him go to the unemployment lines and lecture those workers who have been betrayed on what is the proper definition for their widespread economic misery.

Human tragedy, human misery, the crushing of the human spirit. They do not need defining--they need action.

And it is action, in the form of jobs, lower taxes, and an expanded economy that – as President – I intend to provide.

Hunstman can take that passage like that and introduce three thoughts that could define his message: (1) Like Carter, the idea of Obama as an out-of-touch intellectual; (2) Like Reagan, a Republican who intends to build a bridge to the same disgruntled blue-collar Democrats and independents who abandoned Carter; (3) Like any Republican who hopes to have lasting impact, a candidate with ambitious ideas for jump-starting the economy.

(photo credit: saucy_pan)