Jon Huntsman: Election 2012 Preview

This article is part of an occasional series of articles looking at the contenders for the 2012 Republican Presidential nomination.

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination on Tuesday. Interestingly, he served as President Obama’s ambassador to China – so if he wins the nomination, he will run against his former boss, for whom he served two years without complaint.

Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, there have been eight presidential elections. The winners of all eight general election races have had the same seven winning traits. Does Mr. Huntsman have them?

Mostly. He exudes an almost Reaganesque optimism, appears comfortable in his own skin, and has an undeniable (if low-key) charisma. That pundits bashed his cliché-ridden announcement misses the point: it was his first time introducing himself to the American people, and he left a positive impression.

Mr. Huntsman does a nice job of wrapping a tough message in optimistic language, a trait voters have regularly rewarded:

“We are passing down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive, and less confident than the one we got. This, ladies and gentleman, is totally unacceptable, and it is totally un-American. And it need not, must not, will not be our permanent condition. We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation.”

And he does a good job of positioning himself as a “civil” candidate:

“For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity, and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans. Our political debates today are corrosive.”

But he does have at least one major communications challenge. Although he’s amiable, Huntsman is not tapping into the anger many Americans feel – including so many of the conservatives who will decide their party’s nominee.

Huntsman has an odd habit of delivering a tough line containing bad news, looking up, and smiling – which appears totally incongruous with his verbal message and casts into doubt whether he viscerally feels the words he’s saying. Mr. Huntsman would benefit from showing more conviction, and perhaps even showing an occasional flash of anger to signal that he “gets it” and is tough enough to do something about America’s challenges.

It won’t be easy for Mr. Huntsman to win the nomination – but if he did, he would present a tough challenge to President Obama. Despite his flaws, Mr. Huntsman is a gifted communicator, and has many of the traits winning presidential candidates need.


To follow this series, please like us on Facebook at

Related: Scorecard: June 13 Republican Debate

Related: 2012 Election Preview (Our Series From December 2010)