12/08/2011 10:36 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2012

Huntsman Is Like Reagan

I strongly support New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary because voters in the Granite State take seriously their influence in choosing our next president. As the moment of truth approaches, let's consider the candidacy of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

I propose that of all the Republican candidates, Jon Huntsman comes closest to Ronald Reagan in political philosophy and governing style.

In December 2004 I wrote an essay for National Review Online titled "Roosevelt, Reagan, Rushmore" suggesting that Reagan deserves an extraordinary place in history for his role in ending the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.

Reagan's governing style combined a bedrock conservatism with a strong belief that a president must get things done, which requires skillful negotiating he learned by leading the Screen Actors Guild. Huntsman first practiced this Reaganesque style of politics as a young aide in the Reagan White House.

Like Reagan, and unlike Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, there is a linear consistency to Huntsman's life, philosophy, career and achievements.

Huntsman has always been a faithful conservative and a chief executive who knows, as Reagan did, that leadership is the art of getting things done. For voters who want perpetual name-calling in politics and gridlock in Washington, Huntsman is not your man.

When I worked for House Democratic leaders during the Reagan presidency, Speaker Tip O'Neill would talk in leadership meetings about his dinners with "Ron and Nancy" the night before. Reagan and Tip would battle like lions during the day, share a classic movie together at night and reach honorable compromises when they were needed to serve the nation.

I hope Granite State voters evaluate Huntsman's conservatism in light of discussions from such respected conservatives as George Will and Erick Erickson. My view is that Huntsman combines the practical big-tent conservatism of Ronald Reagan, the reformist patriotism of John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000 and the creative conservatism of the late Jack Kemp.

Huntsman was a brilliantly successful governor of Utah. Nonpartisan analysts called him the best governor in America.

By contrast with Huntsman, Mitt Romney was a solid governor of Massachusetts with a record many liberals could run on. By contrast with the linear consistency of Huntsman's career, Romney's career has been a long and legendary litany of changing political convictions. Romney is like a late-night comedy Mr. Politician, always changing what he stands for depending on what voters want to hear.

By contrast with Huntsman's governorship that was universally acclaimed, Newt Gingrich's Speakership ended with scandal, disgrace, humiliation and a reprimand supported by most of his GOP colleagues. Virtually none of them support him today. Gingrich resigned before his GOP peers could fire him.

By contrast with Huntsman's linear conservative views, Gingrich has shifted positions almost as much as Romney on matters such as the health care mandate, often tied to financial interests.

What does it say about the integrity of a man who demands that advocates of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac go to jail, while he took more than $1.5 million from Freddie Mac in a naked case of insider crony capitalism that would leave Rod Blagojevich green with envy?

With Gingrich, follow the money. With Romney, follow the pander.

It would be great for my party if Republicans nominated a pandering weathervane strongly distrusted by 70 percent of his own party, or a former Speaker not even endorsed by those who served with him in the House (and who in my view will definitely self-destruct), bringing President Obama an epic landslide similar to 1964, but:

These are serious times that demand serious leaders. Our economy is gravely ill and needs urgent help. Our security is threatened by terrorism and war. There is a crash of confidence in our political and business elites. The nation is best served when both parties nominate the candidate most fit to lead us.

This column was originally published at The Hill.