Just over a decade after then-Governor Huntsman tapped Mike Lee as his general counsel, Mike Lee returned the favor and appointed Jon Huntsman Jr. as his campaign’s co-chair.
Notwithstanding their history working well together, this reunion, at first glance, seems counterintuitive given the disparate political paths each has taken since that time—paths that have led them to opposite sides Grand Ole Party’s ideological spectrum.
In his short stint on the national political stage, Huntsman laid claim to the Party’s moderate quadrant while the rest of Republican field running for president clamored to the right. Huntsman was one of the first and only Republicans nationwide to endorse civil unions and later publicly supported gay marriage.
Huntsman’s views on immigration could likewise be considered soft by GOP hardliners. Huntsman, no doubt, saw himself as the voice of reason in a field of presidential candidates eager to pander to the base just as a Labrador happily retrieves a tennis ball. And let’s not forget Huntsman served as Ambassador to China during a Democratic administration.
For his part, Mike Lee is to the Tea Party what peanut butter is to jelly. Locking arms with Ted Cruz, Lee has been on a Don Quixote-esque crusade to reign in the federal government. Lee’s cut-spending-at-all-costs mentality culminated with a showdown with the President over Obamacare funding. As a result, the federal government shut down, leading Huntsman Senior to declare that Lee is “an embarrassment to the state of Utah.”
And now the elder Huntsman’s progeny is on the front lines of Lee’s re-election campaign.
Strangely, it makes perfect sense. “Politics” should be Latin for “what’s in it for me?” By that definition, Utah’s newest odd couple has memorialized one of the better symbiotic relationships in recent memory.
Both Lee and Huntsman’s reputations in Utah have suffered by venturing out too far on their respective political branches. After hearing the branch beginning to crack, both Lee and Huntsman are scurrying towards the safety of the metaphorical trunk.
With his overzealous attempts to reign in government, Lee overlooked that tourism is one of Utah’s largest exports and contributes heavily to its thriving economy. Shutting down national parks certainly didn’t help. Nor did it help his favorability rating.
Lee is now engaged in a PR battle to soften his image and depict a more reasonable, mainstream candidate. Who better to help bolster your moderate bona fides than Junior? Tapping into the Huntsman fundraising networks doesn’t hurt, either.
Conversely, Huntsman, who has probably foreclosed on his dream of being Commander-in-Chief, is rumored to be interested in running for Hatch’s seat should he fulfill his promise of not running again.
In order to do that he must prove to Utah’s rank and file Republicans that he is one of them: conservative.
Working alongside Lee and the Tea Party soldiers who support him is perhaps the most efficient way of shedding the plague-like label of moderate. And if you can be the Huntsman family olive branch to a United States Senator, all the better.
First impressions aside, it’s a match made in political heaven. If there is such a thing.