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The choice for Iowa and beyond

Were I a resident of Iowa, I would caucus tomorrow for Jon Huntsman (and I could do so without having been a long-term registered Republican). I would like to able to have a genuine choice for between the two main party candidates in November’s election, and Huntsman is the only Republican who I can now envisage myself supporting. Even if I were to support President Barack Obama for re-election, I think he would be better served by debating Huntsman than any of the other candidates. Such a debate would be the one most likely to be fought on issues of substance.

jhuntsmanJon Huntsman served as ambassador to Singapore from 1992 to 1993, worked in business till he was appointed Deputy United States Trade Representative in 2001 by President Bush, and in this role helped bring the Republic of China (Taiwan) and the People’s Republic of China into the WTO. He served as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, and as Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011, appointed by President Obama. Through these positions, he has an understanding of international relations, and the role the US plays, already more developed than most presidential candidates, in this season or in past years. He showed patriotism by accepting an ambassadorial position under this current Democratic administration, when it would have been better for his prospects in the Republican primaries to have continued as governor.

Though very much the most moderate of the Republican candidates, he is a fiscal hawk. In 2008, the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, ranked Huntsman in fifth place among governors on fiscal policy, on level with Republicans Rick Perry of Texas and Jim Gibbons of Nevada. His economic and taxation policy is focused on reducing corporate welfare and other tax expenditures. Yet in August, he was the only one of the Republican candidates to approve of the deal between the president and the House on the debt ceiling, calling it “a positive step toward cutting our nation’s crippling debt.”

While his support for civil unions rather than marriage for gay couples still places him behind the population at large in tracking polls, he is one of only two Republican candidates not to have signed the National Organization for Marriage’s anti-equality pledge, the other being Ron Paul. He showed disdain for the anti-evolution views and climate change skepticism of fellow candidate Gov. Rick Perry, tweeting during the summer, “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” On immigration, he appealed during one of the debates to the example of Vancouver to claim that immigration would help the economy.

So I would not hesitate to vote for Jon Huntsman from the Republican field. But the many reasons I like him are part of the reasons he has featured so poorly among Republican primary voters. Unfortunately too for Huntsman, the fact that both himself and Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, are both Mormons, means he is unlikely to even be selected as the vice presidential candidate. The best he has to hope for on current polls is coming third in New Hampshire.

The race in Iowa is currently between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. Paul had been ahead before Christmas, and crucially before the focus on his newsletters in the 1990s full of racist slurs. If his loss were attributable to that, it could be taken as a welcome assertion from voters that such things are not acceptable. However, if Paul did win, I would not see it conversely as endorsement of anything in the newsletters. Apart from the newsletters, I have plenty of issues with Paul, even from within a libertarian framework; he favours restrictions on immigration and supports the Defense of Marriage Act; in 2008 he supported the extremely anti-libertarian Constitution Party in the general election; he has associated with the paranoid John Birch Society. But it is not for these reasons that he has done well this year. Last week, Glenn Greenwald excellently catalogued the many ways in which Paul has defended issues which liberals of all varieties agree on, but which have been absent from public discussion since Barack Obama became president. These include war; due process for all, including suspected terrorists; prohibition on drugs; whistle-blowers against the state; drone attacks; infringements of civil liberties; and US foreign policy towards Israel and Iran. So while I would not myself vote for him, I could not see the electoral success of a candidate with these positions as in itself a Bad Thing.

We will probably see the success tomorrow of a man who lacks any backbone, in Mitt Romney. A world I can live with, I suppose. As long as it’s not the reprehensible Rick Santorum, who worryingly is rising in the polls.

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