Seriously, Jon Huntsman Is Not a Moderate

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If there’s anything impressive about Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign, it’s the extent to which he’s convinced the world of his moderation. For example, here’s the first sentence of The New York Times’ write-up on his recently released economic plan:

“Jon M. Huntsman Jr. again showed himself on Wednesday to be an ideological outlier in the Republican presidential field, calling for the tax code to be stripped of all loopholes and deductions.”

The emphasis is mine; to the Times and other political observers, the mere willingness to pursue revenue-neutral tax reform is evidence of moderation or, at least, ideological heterodoxy. But as I pointed out yesterday, you need only to take a quick look at the basics of Huntsman’s proposal to see that he is no less right-wing than his counterparts in the GOP primary contest.

That said, since I was working with an outline of the plan, there was a chance – however small – that the full plan would dial down somewhat on the austerity conservatism.

Not so much.

To start, Jon Huntsman’s proposal calls for Congress to repeal both the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, since universal health-care coverage and a regulated financial sector aren’t priorities for the Huntsman administration. Huntsman would then push for a dramatic reduction in the power and authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Labor Relations Board, in order to curb the “excesses” of federal regulation.

Huntsman doesn’t say anything about Medicaid spending, Medicare cost control, or the Social Security shortfall, but given his commitment to extending the Bush tax cuts and lowering taxes on the wealthy, it’s not unreasonable to think that he supports some variation on the Paul Ryan plan, which slashes entitlements and social spending and funnels the savings toward tax cuts for the wealthy.

Indeed, as ThinkProgress found, Huntsman’s tax policies would raise taxes on poor and working-class Americans, including seniors. To achieve the revenue necessary to offset his tax cuts, Huntsman would have to eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit and tax any income from veterans' pensions, disability benefits, and Social Security payments.

Most egregiously, Huntsman’s plan does nothing to address unemployment. The word is mentioned two times in the 12-page document, as part of a section on cutting the corporate tax rate by 10 percentage points to 25 percent. Instead, Huntsman offers a litany of giveaways to corporations and entrenched interests as a substitute for any effort to tackle the massive demand shortfall in the economy.

I used to think that Jon Huntsman was too moderate for the Republican Party, but that turns out to have been wrong. As far as his ideas are concerned, the former Utah governor can stand toe to toe with Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann. Huntsman’s problem is that he completely misjudged the political climate in 2009. Like many others (myself included), Huntsman looked at the landscape and saw a Democratic Party in ascendance.

As it turned out, however, crummy economic conditions led to an empowered right wing, which abandoned any pretense at moderation in favor of a reactionary agenda of deep austerity and social conservatism, mixed with a healthy dose of cultural resentment. Jon Huntsman’s views might fit, but his failure to ride the Tea Party wave has left him a near pariah among large swaths of the GOP.

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