POLITICS
11/29/2012 11:55 am ET | Updated Nov 29, 2012

Jon Huntsman Strategist On GOP: 'Alas, We Are Still In The Wilderness'

WASHINGTON -- Jon Huntsman's comments on what he views as the troubled state of the Republican Party Wednesday afternoon raised eyebrows, not simply because of his tough assessments of his fellow 2012 presidential candidates, but because of the outlet he chose to make his case.

The former Utah governor and ambassador to China sat down with The Huffington Post for an interview that spanned both domestic and foreign policy. Politico, among several others, treated his decision as another piece of evidence that he's a moderate disguising himself as a conservative. Why not, after all, make these points to a right-leaning publication if his goal is to move the conservative zeitgeist?

Politico's Dylan Byers quoted an unnamed GOP source saying that Huntsman would be a "real force in 2016" if he changed his party registration. It was enough to trigger a response from the top adviser to Huntsman's presidential campaign, John Weaver, who wrote an email to Byers and passed it along to The Huffington Post.

Dylan, interesting take from your anonymous (as usual) GOP source. That response is typical of those who don't yet get it that we've lost the majority of national elections since 1994 and the demographic trend lines point to more trouble ahead. Jon Huntsman put his country first, not his political party or his ambitions, when he agreed to serve as Ambassador to China. Country first. Quaint, but perhaps if we did more of that we might regain the trust of the majority of Americans and be placed in a position to govern.

I am proud to have been asked to be part of the Huntsman campaign. And like [Obama Campaign Manager] Jim Messina, knew that Jon was the electable conservative in 2012. Unlike the eventual nominee, he offered detailed (and praised) policy proposals that knew no sacred cows: from entitlements to the big banks. Alas, we are still in the wilderness. The question is: was Romney our 1968 Humphrey or do we have a McGovern yet to get through in 2016?

Weaver often faces the same criticism as Huntsman -- namely, that pushing Republican candidates toward moderation (whether in tone or policy) is a tired, ineffective approach. But lost in the discussion is a larger point. Huntsman argued in his HuffPost interview that if the Republican Party is to be an effective force on the presidential level, it should start by expanding the universe with which it engages.

He pointed to the lack of conservative roots on college campuses as an example. "Nobody is there making the sale," he said. "Where are the Bill Buckleys? Where are the Ronald Reagans? Where are the people who, a generation ago, took conservative thinking to college campuses? Even if they were blasted down, they were there to at least put forward their arguments. That is not happening today."

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