So Much For Huntsman 2.0: The ‘Crazy’ Candidate Swings Right

Billing himself as the candidate of the “real world” and highlighting his breaks from party orthodoxy, Jon Huntsman has tried to brand himself as a pragmatic truth-teller in a GOP that has swung too far towards the hardline right.

But his rhetoric and policy hasn’t always matched up with the broader message in recent days. The tension is most evident in his grand jobs plan, the centerpiece of which is a proposal to slash taxes for the wealthy while eliminating a plethora of popular breaks for homeowners and middle class Americans. Huntsman sells the move on its purity — tax expenditures for corporations and average Americans alike would be dropped to lower rates — but realistically, the plan has virtually no chance of passing Congressional muster. The Bowles-Simpson deficit commission, hardly a darling of the left, acknowledged as much in their report last year, suggesting lawmakers keep some of the most popular breaks — like the mortgage interest deductions, exemptions for employer-provided health care, and the earned income tax credit — in order to generate sufficient support for tax reform along the lines Huntsman proposes.Huntsman took some comparatively bold stances in August to bolster his cred as the pragmatic Republican — for example, he was the only candidate to support Speaker Boehner’s agreement with the White House to avoid default. “That’s not in the real world,” he told reporters last month, discussing the other candidates’ blanket opposition. But the ideologically pure and politically unworkable jobs plan belies his pragmatic brand, especially since he’s making it the focus of his new campaign.

Huntsman has criticized his fellow Republicans for denying scientific evidence, at one point setting the media abuzz with a tweet that read, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” But crazy or not, it seems he’s reluctant to cross the Rubicon completely and flatly label the most extreme candidates out of bounds. Asked last month on CNN whether he would serve as Michele Bachmann’s running mate, he said he’d “be the first person to sign up, absolutely” if she asked.

Even his Twitter feed, which turned into a freewheeling source of political potshots on his rivals (and offbeat rock references), has quieted down. After reeling off a string of attacks on Bachmann’s plan for $2 a gallon gas and Rick Perry’s “treason” comment on Bernanke his feed has in recent days mostly been limited to announcing media appearances.

It’s not clear how relevant to the race Huntsman can ever be at this point given that he’s barely registering in the polls. Huntsman is reshuffling his staff this week, replacing his New Hampshire campaign manager (who once worked on John McCain’s “maverick” bids) with an aide from Tim Pawlenty’s defunct campaign.

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