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Huntsman's gentlemanly POTUS announcement

by Eric S. Peterson
Posted // 2011-06-21 -

I was struck by Huntsman’s civil and respectful POTUS announcement—struck, as in like hit with a goose-feather pillow.

(Note: This blog reported live from my desk where I watched a jumpy feed of Huntsman’s announcement on my computer.)

Huntsman’s modest courtship with a presidential run came to a gentlemanly proposal this morning. In New Jersey, with the Statute of Liberty as his backdrop, Huntsman made his quest for the highest office in the land official, in a speech that artfully connected his international experience abroad to his domestic strength as Utah’s former governor.

“I’m from the American West, where the view of America is limitless with lots of blue sky. I’ve lived overseas four times, where the view of America from 10,000 miles away is a picture of liberty, opportunity and justice. People secure in their rights and in love with their liberty. People who have done more good for more people than any other nation on Earth,” Huntsman said, suddenly turning up the volume “and today I’m a candidate for the office of President of the United States.”

Point for point, it was a speech that highlighted strong themes of American exceptionalism abroad forged in domestic strength at home.

It had all the crucial talking points about Utah’s high rankings during his tenure for state management and economic recovery. “By many accounts, we were the best state in America for business. We were also named best-managed state,” Huntsman said, with a member of the crowd, likely a Utahn, chiming in with, "That’s right!"

He also brought up the service of veterans:

“I looked at members of the Greatest Generation in their outfits and ribbons they had earned in times of conflict. I saw in their eyes stories you could make great movies from.”

He also conjured up the ghost of the Gipper, highlighting Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign announcement in the same spot, looking out to the Statue of Liberty. “He assured us we could make America great again and he did.”

But then the part that finally hit me was Huntsman’s call for a civil campaign -- not just because he pledged to be civil with his Republican contenders, but because he pledged that same civility to President Barack Obama.

“I want you to know I respect my fellow candidates and I respect the President of the United States. He and I have different opinions on how to help the country we both love.” Huntsman said. “The question each of us wants voters to answer is ‘who will be the better president, not who is the better American.”

Ah, the gentle fighting words of a moderate Republican.

It’s a move that could potentially cost him or win him the fray he’s now officially joined. Sure, in a fight against Obama it can win him points with now-jaded independents, but among conservatives it depends on if you are center right or as far right of center as the bat-shit crazy can fly. 

Perhaps he just realizes that if you divide the crazy GOP vote by Sarah Palin plus Michelle Bachman you get a moderate majority, whose remainder candidate is a guy like Huntsman.

But then again, a guy like Huntsman isn’t necessarily Huntsman. It could be a guy like Romney.

Nevertheless, the purposefully mellow and mature tone was impressive, even if a little sleepy. But the question remains: Can people get excited by mellow and mature?

Even the campaign theme music struck me as unusual. While many Republicans want to beat the war drums when mounting a bid against Obama, Huntsman’s theme music is slow, melodic and even twangy -- the kind of music that would accompany the opening credits of a ‘50s Western movie, with a lone cowboy riding into town.

Or ... perhaps the end credits of a Western, with a proud, yet beaten cowboy, riding out of town and off into the obscurity of the sunset.

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