Presidential Heartbreakers 

Huntsman's out; Romney's a fake

From the time I became eligible to vote in 1972, I have never voted for a Republican candidate for president. I was ready to break that trend this coming November had Jon Huntsman Jr. become the Republican nominee for that high office. I am one of those disenchanted Democrats who thinks President Obama has not delivered on certain promised goods. I also came to know Huntsman to a fair degree during his time in office as Utah’s governor, and I can vouch for a very important fact about the man: He is totally sane—unlike a certain bunch of Republicans still vying for that party’s presidential nod.

But, alas, Huntsman has decided not to continue in the race for the 2012 presidency. He’s officially out of it now, just before the primary vote in South Carolina—Jonny, We Hardly Knew Ye! That means I’ll most assuredly cast my vote for Obama this November. I won’t have to hold my nose—while Obama has let me down, he did fulfill a good number of his campaign promises, notably getting us out of Iraq, and for better or worse, he does represent what remains of America’s blue-collar workers, working-class poor and the nearly invisible middle class. And, I’ll cast that vote knowing it won’t mean a damned thing in Utah, where Mitt Romney will likely pull over 60 percent of the vote.

Like most Utahns, I came to know about Mitt Romney during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. I never met him. At the time, this paper and most others in the world were publishing all kinds of stories about the Olympic bribery scandal, and there was no shortage of finger-pointing at the man whom Romney replaced as head of the Utah Olympic Committee, Tom Welch. I did know Tom. In the true sum of things, I’ve actually come to think this: Tom Welch got screwed. Mistakes were made, certainly, but they were not so isolated as we were taught to believe, and once the scandal reached a certain hypocritical mass, someone had to take the fall. The scapegoating of Welch and his right-hand man, Dave Johnson, created the perfect storm of opportunity. The 2002 gold medal for reshaping a public image while launching the presidency of one of its very own goes to the LDS Church.

Mitt Romney became the white knight who saved the day and brought us honor even though he was the ultimate Utah outsider. So, smitten, I wrote a column advocating he run for president someday. I was a sap, in other words, a sucker, for if one thing became clear after the Olympics it was this: Mitt was in it for Mitt. Once Utah found itself in the embarrassing hot seat of scandal, a scandal that by extension cast an ugly light on the LDS Church and its teachings, including those of honesty and morality, a great work was indeed called for. Utah and the LDS Church found that calling in the form of Mitt Romney, and he took full advantage.

A City Weekly cover from that era shows Mitt striding the rails as Dudley Do-Right, saving the day and rescuing poor Nell—all the rest of us—who is bound and tied to the railroad tracks. It worked. New
scandals have replaced the Utah Olympics as headline news. While still struggling to find a fit in traditional Christendom, the LDS Church nonetheless has moved even nearer to mainstream American acceptance, and its adherents are most often regarded as generous, charitable, honest and trustworthy. Mitt himself has used his Olympic Games experience as a lynchpin to his back story of bringing success to everything he touches.

Yet, 10 years later, I do wonder if he is the same Mitt—were we snookered then, or are we being snookered now? In 2002, I accepted that Mitt was the handsome public face for my home state. Today, I wonder why he never comes here except to gather additional campaign funds. In 2002, I figured he was just a normal Joe when he launched the F-bomb at a person having trouble parking his car at Snowbasin. Today, I remember how he denied it, despite witnesses, and let the guy wrangle in the wind—and compare that to how he treats everyone of a lesser status than his own. In 2002, Mitt ended up taking all the credit for all the success of the Olympic games. Today, it’s more clear that Welch and Johnson actually set much of the groundwork for that success, and that everyone forgets that those games came on the heels of 9/11, giving Salt Lake City a sorrowful, but successful, financial boost due to the billion or so spent here on security that would not have been otherwise.

At any rate, I won’t have to think about all of that, since it’s a given I won’t be voting for Mitt should he get the nomination. I’m not too pleased that Huntsman endorsed Mitt and asked his supporters to support the myth, if not the man. Sorry, Jon. Can’t do that. Won’t do that. For the life of me, I don’t know why—other than political expediency—Huntsman would endorse Mitt in the first place. Romney is the antithesis of Huntsman, and the only things I can see that they have in common is that they are both Republicans who were baptized into the same faith.

It’s pretty clear to me, though, that they had different Sunday School teachers. I sort of understand why Utahns favor the wrong man in Romney, but I can’t understand why LDS Utahns didn’t favor their own in Huntsman. He could have taken them further than Romney ever will—especially if Romney’s wheels come off. And I think they will. 

Twitter: @JohnSaltas

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