Which Huntsman will we actually see?

Last modified: 5/19/2011 12:00:00 AM
Today Jon Huntsman makes his New Hampshire debut as a potential presidential candidate. As someone who served under both a Democratic and a Republican president abroad, I applaud him for setting his Republican Party affiliation aside for two years to serve President Obama in China.

Being an ambassador means that you serve 'at the pleasure of the president,' which includes the policies advocated by his or her administration. Most important, you are representing the interests of the United States in your host country, and a close relationship with your commander in chief often facilitates the work you are doing as it directly affects the leaders' perceptions of your authority.

But I wonder which Huntsman will be coming to the Granite State this week. Already he has been flip-flopping, like all the Republican candidates, pandering to the most extreme views of the Republican base. When these Republican candidates begin their presidential runs, it seems like all the pragmatic and commonsense policymaking they once listed as accomplishments becomes a record from which they try to distance themselves.

Is the Jon Huntsman who will show up in Lebanon today the Huntsman who supports commonsense policies to limit pollution?

Will it be the Huntsman who as Utah governor signed the regional cap-and-trade plan known as the Western Climate Initiative? Or will it be the Huntsman who flip-flops on pollution limits?

What about health care? Will the Huntsman who told the Obama administration that he appreciated what the president was trying to do on health care be the one coming to Manchester this weekend? Or will it be a Romney-lite Huntsman who attempts to distance himself from the president's groundbreaking reforms that will ensure millions of Americans have access to quality affordable health care?

Will the Huntsman who supports a larger stimulus package come to Windham? Huntsman told Politico that the stimulus 'probably wasn't large enough,' and accepted more than $1.6 billion in stimulus money as governor of Utah.

Is that what he'll tell the Windham Republican Town Committee this week?

Will the Huntsman who supports civil unions and gay rights come to Franklin - the Huntsman who was honored by the Utah Pride Center for his support of civil unions and extending benefits to same-sex and non-traditional couples? Or will it be a different Huntsman - a Huntsman who sheds his previous convictions to position himself in the Republican primary contest?

Will the New Hampshire Huntsman be the one whom even a Democrat could learn to love or will he just be the next iteration of extreme conservative Rick Santorum?

Jon Huntsman may just be the latest candidate in a presidential primary where all the competitors are moving to the right - as quickly as possible. If Huntsman follows this well-trodden path, it will be nothing new and nothing as fresh as the Washington pundits suggest his candidacy to be.

(Richard Swett of Bow is a former ambassador to Denmark and former Democratic congressman from New Hampshire's 2nd District.)

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