It was a chance encounter. Today I was walking down Broadway with a colleague from law school to meet our professor at her office. As I crossed 54th Street, I glanced to my right and saw Jon Huntsman walking toward us. We reached the corner a half step before him, and I managed to say, “Good afternoon, Governor.” Huntsman saw me, nodded, and gave a faint smile in acknowledgement. No one broke their gait, my friend and I crossed in front of him, and within a few seconds we were far apart, perhaps never to meet again.
I never told Mr. Huntsman that I respected his service to our country. I never told him that I thought that he should be our party’s nominee. I never told him how angry it made me today when I had to begrudgingly cast a vote for his robotic and aristocratic rival, Mr. Romney.
I never told him that he’s the first candidate I ever donated money to—$10 may not have made much difference, but it was a lot of money coming from a law student without gainful employment. (I never told him that his staff still hasn’t sent me the ceramic mug I purchased for $15 via his campaign website.)
I never told him how irritated I was that Saturday Night Live didn’t write his character into its last cold opening, even though he was the only candidate to appear on the show.
I never told him that I too regret his decision to “raise his hand” during the Iowa debate. I never told him that I completely agreed with his recent criticism of the party’s failure to accommodate dissenting opinions. I never told him how important it is to still have reasonable voices like his in the party, particularly in the current political climate.
So I missed my opportunity today to tell him anything substantive. I spent the next few minutes explaining to my friend that we had just passed the only presidential candidate I had ever been enthusiastic about and that I didn’t even stop to shake his hand.
Sometimes it’s tough to be a Republican in New York City. Young liberals regularly object when they discover that I am a registered member of the GOP: “You’re too smart to be a conservative!” “But, you’re not crazy!” I often have to justify myself with lengthy explanations.
But these days I think it might be even tougher for a reasonable candidate to justify himself as a Republican. Huntsman’s campaign was certainly flawed, but his biggest problem seemed to be that he was the reasonable man in an unreasonable field. During the campaign, right-wing commentators painted Huntsman as a liberal, merely because he was civil and didn’t engage in unreasonable attacks on the President. The mainstream media did this too, tagging him as a moderate because he didn’t share some of the irrational or intolerant beliefs of his fellow GOP candidates. They assigned front-runner status to imbeciles and lunatics—even entertaining the presidential aspirations of Donald Trump—rather than focusing on a conservative ex-governor that didn’t fit neatly into their narrative. And even though Huntsman is no longer in the race, the media still portray him as the odd man out.
I hope Jon Huntsman has a future in the Republican Party. Political realignment may be necessary if reasonable voices can no longer find a home in the GOP.