Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry are at the center of a battle raging for the soul of the Republican Party. Huntsman's recent attacks on the credibility of Texas Governor Rick Perry have heated up the Republican primary and intensified the division in the Republican Party. By recently calling out Perry who has been making news by "talking Texas" on issues like global warming and evolution, John Huntsman seeks to be the one GOP candidate who can appeal to mainstream voters. Huntsman has been trailing in the polls, though voters shouldn't forget that John McCain was all but dead after the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll. And while Governor Perry's thoughtless sound-bites about treasonous acts by the Federal Reserve and corrupt climate change scientists stir up the talk show hosts, Perry is simply the flavor of the month for some GOP caucus craziness. Moderate conservative John Huntsman is the one pragmatic and rational conservative who can simply on his record.
Lately, moderate Republicans have been running scared as extreme party faithful are ready to pounce on any lack of conservative purity, social or fiscal. Rick Perry seems committed to passing every purity test. Huntsman, by contrast, has been confident in his pragmatic conservatism. Rather than fear Tea Party activists who have little understanding of the federal budgets, Huntsman has appealed to independents by defending the deficit reduction bill. The same logic applies to federal spending. While Huntsman's argument that the stimulus plan should have been bigger has the backing of many of economists, Rick Perry will eventually face serious challenges about his lobbying for and use of federal funds in Texas. At that point, Huntsman will be more credible in acknowledging a role for the federal government.
The social issues will also be a challenge for a Republican Party seeking to connect with mainstream independents. Huntsman has proudly stated his beliefs in evolution and man's influence on climate change, saying people can "call him crazy" for trusting scientists. In fact, Huntsman should continue to promote cap-and-trade legislation because it is not only a reasonable control on industries that don't have a lot of popular support, but Huntsman can still be a good conservative because the plan originated in conservative think tanks. Eventually, Rick Perry will face challenges on his claim that Texas teaches creationism - it doesn't - and that climate scientists are cheating on their data - no evidence has been found for this. Thus, Huntsman can feel safe in openly challenging the random mutterings of Rick Perry on evolution and climate change because the voter in the middle will trust scientists over Texas governors with poor academic records. Huntsman's support for civil unions will also serve him well because most Americans agree, and opposition to civil unions will put Perry at odds with young and independent voters.
In a classic episode of the political drama The West Wing, President Bartlett's staff urged him to make the election about "smart versus stupid." That scene was meant to reflect the divide in the Al Gore-George W. Bush race. However, this time the battle is within one party, and it's about Huntsman versus Perry. True independents, especially fiscally conservative moderates, will find a lot of common ground with Jon Huntsman. In a contest between Huntsman and Obama, they might just vote for Huntsman. Whereas, a race between Obama and Perry will practically guarantee a second Obama term. If the GOP wants to win the independent vote, Huntsman is the rational and pragmatic vote. The Huntsman versus Perry battle will potentially divide the GOP, but Huntsman nomination would give the GOP its best chance in 2012