What my bus ride to New Jersey taught me about Huntsman’s supporters

Stephen Richer Law Student, University of Chicago
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If it’s true that you can tell a lot about a person by meeting his friends and family, Jon Huntsman should go far in the GOP race.

I helped arrange for a bus to pick up 42 young professionals at 5:30 a.m. Tuesday morning in D.C. and drive four hours to Liberty State Park in New Jersey to see Huntsman’s presidential announcement. I didn’t have to force or bribe any friends to join me. Quite the opposite. It took only 24 hours to find a group of think-tankers, consultants, lawyers, and interns who wanted to support Huntsman on his big day.

The group was professional and polite, and they were also smart, accomplished, and informed. Degrees from Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, etc. sprinkled the bus. Two people discussed Rwandan politics with obvious acumen; others shared informed articles that they’d written for impressive publications. As for their support for Jon Huntsman — it didn’t stem from blind faith and a longing for something new; one bus rider noted that Huntsman had won the 2008 Cato Institute tax award, and others could name the exact dollar amount of taxes that Huntsman cut as governor ($220 million).

Huntsman’s speech appealed to this group. It didn’t rely on shouting mouths and stomping feet, but it resonated with the brains of the bus riders. The speech outlined broad principles of economic freedom and evoked the need to keep America at the top of the world — economically, militarily, and intellectually. To beat his rivals, Huntsman promised good solutions, not good rhetoric — answers that would make sense when analyzed, not just answers that would feel good. As Huntsman put it, we need “Leadership that knows we need more than hope, leadership that knows we need answers.”

To win the election, Huntsman will depend on the intelligence of the American people. Just as with the bus riders, the majority of Americans are smart enough to figure out that the George W. Bush administration didn’t work, and neither does the Obama administration. Huntsman plans to offer better solutions to our problems than either Bush or Obama have. If the American people figure that out, there won’t be a need to resort to calling President Obama a foreign-born Muslim to win the election. To this end, Huntsman announced that he would “conduct this campaign on the high road,” and he said that he “respects the president of the United States,” but they “have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love.”

On the trip back, my fellow riders pulled the speech up on their smart phones and deconstructed it. They didn’t agree with everything, but they did agree that Huntsman will be somebody who runs on his record and the details of his future plans, not somebody who runs on either a sonorous voice or scare tactics.

After spending eight hours getting to know my bus-mates, I would confidently hand over any of my work assignments, financial concerns, or group projects to the 42 riders. If Huntsman is at all like his supporters, then I’ll feel similarly confident in giving him the keys to the White House.

Stephen Richer is the Director of Outreach at a Washington, D.C.-based legal think tank.

Stephen Richer