Is it fair to say the mainstream media loves Jon Huntsman?
Hmmm… Well, let’s put it this way. Of all the Republicans running to take on President Obama next year the big papers and networks hate Huntsman the least.
Even The Wall Street Journal, the leading conservative editorial voice among the top news organizations, has put its prestige behind only one GOP candidate’s plan to get the American economy going. And the winner is Huntsman.
The Journal wrote that Huntsman’s prescription for creating jobs "as impressive as any to date in the GOP presidential field, and certainly better than what we've seen from the front-runners." The Journal added -- before President Obama’s recent speech to congress on jobs: "Perhaps Mr. Huntsman should be asked to give the Republican response to the president's jobs speech... The two views of what makes an economy grow could not be more different."
By contrast, The Journal dumped on Mitt Romney’s economic plan.
Despite all this media love Huntsman has yet to show any heartbeat as candidate. In the most recent Real Clear Politics average of national polls has him in last place with about one percent support. In the same poll, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney command 32 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
The polls don’t lie. Huntsman placed ninth in the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa last month. And outside of the millions of dollars Huntsman has loaned his campaign from his own personal fortune, his fundraising is virtually non-existent.
So why is Huntsman treated as a first tier candidate by the media?
It is due to his daring refusal to kiss up to the Tea Party, and other hard right wing elements, in the GOP. My Fox News colleague, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer even describes Huntsman as “a liberal’s idea of what a Republican ought to be.”
But there are few moderates in the GOP base these days. That leaves the former Utah governor and Obama Administration ambassador to China to run a campaign on the theory that he is a one-eyed man in the land of the blind – a rational man in a party suffering a momentary lapse of sanity. His position is that he is waiting for the Republican base to come to its senses and embrace him.
Huntsman recently told ABC’s Jake Tapper that “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party – the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012.”
Huntsman explained “When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it,” he said, “I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position.”
He also showed some courage in criticizing his party’s stance on issues like global warming and the teaching of evolution.
In response to comments from Rick Perry, Huntsman tweeted: “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
There is real danger is being so direct, even contemptuous of elements of the Republican party who purposely turn their back on scientific evidence of global warming.
A recent Gallup poll found that 52% of Republicans rejected the theory of evolution in favor of creationism while 36% said they believed in an evolutionary process guided by God. Just 8 percent of Republicans said they believed in evolution without any intervention from God.
At the time, Frank Newport, the editor in chief of Gallup, told Fox News: “When a candidate like Jon Huntsman comes out and says, "Oh, I believe in evolution" then he’s out of sync with his own party "adding that “To very religious people, it’s a very sensitive issue.”
The former Utah governor has not backed down.
In the CNN/Tea Party Debate in Florida this week, he took a swipe at Perry and Romney on jobs: "I know that everything's bigger in Texas, and Rick likes to talk that way. And I know all the smart people reside in Massachusetts. But let me just tell you, Utah, the great state of Utah, was number one in job creation at 5.9 percent during my years as governor."
In the same debate, he said of Perry's past statement that it would be ‘difficult’ to secure the Mexican border: "Let me say for Rick to say that you can't secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment."
For all of his recent broadsides, he hasn’t been able to shake Perry or Romney. They are simply ignoring him. Many of Huntsman’s attacks have come off as snarky, petty and just plain bizarre.
When talking about Romney’s position on Social Security, Huntsman made this weird and cringe-worthy comment: “You've got Governor Romney, who called it a fraud in his book 'No Apology.' I don't know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not." Cobain was the rock star who committed suicide in the early 1990s after a struggle with drug addiction.
The evolution of Huntsman’s candidacy says a great deal about the current state of the Republican Party. He started his campaign as a champion of moderation, reason and bipartisanship.
In order to survive the competition from more politically opportunistic rivals – read that as willing to say what the Tea Party wants to hear -- Huntsman has had to adapt to his changing environment. The question is will he be strong enough to survive and propagate the increasingly rare species of moderate Republicans.
Juan Williams is a writer, author and Fox News political analyst. His latest book is "Muzzled: The Assault On Honest Debate" (Crown/Random House) was released in July.