Team Huntsman stresses conservative record; pushes back on moderate meme

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

The other day I wrote about the campaign stumbles of Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman. Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller objected to the notion that the former governor has emphasized moderate positions.

He emailed me, and — with his permission — I thought I would share it with you. Here’s his take:

Governor Huntsman has been a consistent conservative problem-solver for his entire career. That’s exactly what our campaign has been conveying from day one: he’s the consistent conservative who can beat Obama.

The central aspects of our campaign — his policy proposals — have been endorsed by conservatives far and wide and pushed relentlessly. He has the most pro-growth jobs plan in the field. He was the first to endorse in full the Ryan Plan to deal with the deficit.

While the process ought to take a back seat to the message, you ought to note that the first interviews Governor Huntsman gave after announcing were with conservative journalists like George Will, Ramesh Ponnuru and Sean Hannity.  He has done interviews with every conservative publication imaginable, including yours. His initial introduction video highlighted above all his conservative record.

While he may not offer the most relentlessly partisan rhetoric, what he does offer is conservative substance: a conservative record and conservative policy proposals.

Our view from the start of this campaign was that Jon Huntsman is the most electable conservative in the field. That remains the case today. We fully expect as we near the primary election that voters will choose the person they can TRUST to lead this country with consistently conservative principles. Unlike our opponents, Gov. Huntsman has done just that. And primary voters can trust he will do the same as President.

He later added,

Unlike Mitt Romney’s campaign, we aren’t hiding our candidate from the media — including conservative mags like National Review, American Conservative and others.

A few thoughts…

First, I put in bold the part about Huntsman’s first interviews going to center-right journalists like George Will. I’m embarrassed to say I wasn’t aware of this. I still believe that Huntsman mistakenly emphasized his moderate positions, thus, reinforcing this narrative. But I can also sympathize with his campaign’s plight; If Huntsman says nine conservative things — and just one liberal thing — which do you think gets reported?

Second, give Huntsman’s team credit for reaching out. It’s easy to just dismiss critics — or to “blackball” them — but smart campaigns reach out to fair-minded observers. The best campaigns leave no shot unanswered. The fact that Huntsman’s team is pushing back on this narrative — albeit in a respectful way — implies they are taking this thing seriously — and playing for keeps.

Lastly, it’s important to note that my criticisms were based on Huntsman’s strategy and tactics — not his record or his ideology. While political operatives might rightly take a certain amount of pride in their craft (and a certain amount of umbrage to criticism thereof), it’s important to note that criticism of how one runs a campaign is not nearly as important as criticism of how one runs a state (or a nation).

Sure, it’s important that Republicans nominate a good candidate who can run a good race against Obama — but it’s even more important that they nominate a good leader. And there’s nothing wrong with Huntsman’s campaign that couldn’t be corrected by a surge in the polls — just as other candidates have also gotten their turn.

This is all a long way of saying that Huntsman’s past campaign problems are not a deal breaker.

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