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South Carolina’s “The State” Endorses Jon Huntsman

Huntsman could bring us back together

AFTER MONTHS of flirting with candidates who considered inexperience an asset, obstinance and vitriol a virtue and extremism — even flakiness — a job requirement, Republican voters seem to be settling down. Increasingly, they are rallying around a grownup who has impressive experience as a chief executive, in and out of government, and a history of making things work rather than pursuing ideological fetishes. Yet nearly two-thirds of Republican primary voters still reject Mitt Romney, and his opponents are convinced they can raise that number by screaming: “Moderate! Moderate! Moderate!”

You’d think that even if they don’t like it, those on the extremes would respect the fact that those of us in the sensible center decide general elections — and seek out a candidate who appeals to us. But the unhealthy demand for ideological purity obscures a hopeful fact about the GOP presidential field: There are actually two sensible, experienced grownups. And while Mr. Romney is far more appealing than any of the other choices, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is more principled, has a far more impressive resume and offers a significantly more important message.

Both men get tagged “moderate,” but for different reasons. Mr. Romney is a technocrat, a business leader who focuses on getting the job done. As governor, that meant governing in a way that suited Massachusetts. Today the job is winning the presidency, and if that means “evolving” in his views as the primary electorate swings further right, and running away from his signature accomplishment as governor, so be it.

Mr. Huntsman is a true conservative, with a record and platform of bold economic reform straight out of the free-market bible, but he’s a realist, whose goal is likewise to get things done. Under his leadership, Utah led the nation in job creation, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-managed state in the nation.

He also is head and shoulders above the field on foreign policy. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. ambassador to Singapore and President George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador, and the next entry on that resume is even more impressive: He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China. It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board: “When the president asks you to serve, you serve.”

We don’t agree with all of Mr. Huntsman’s positions; for but one example, he championed one of the nation’s biggest private-school voucher programs. And with George Will calling him the most conservative candidate and The Wall Street Journal editorial page endorsing his tax plan, independent voters might find less to like about his positions than, say, Mr. Romney’s or Newt Gingrich’s.

What makes him attractive are the essential values that drive his candidacy: honor and old-fashioned decency and pragmatism. As he made clear Wednesday to a room packed full of USC students on the first stop of his “Country First” tour, his goal is to rebuild trust in government, and that means abandoning the invective and reestablishing the political center.

Don’t expect him to engage in meaningless hyperbole or apologize for his occasional moderate positions. As he explained recently: “We have to draw from ideas that are doable and not so outlandishly stupid that they create a lot of political infighting and finger-pointing and never, ever in a thousand years are going to get done.” And don’t expect him to spout ridiculous superlatives about the existential threat the incumbent poses to our nation; President Obama simply has failed to lead or has led in the wrong direction, he argues.

Why on earth would we want a candidate to say anything worse about his opponent? Explain why he’s wrong, and why you’re right, and let the voters choose.

We need a president who can work within our poisonous political environment to solve our nation’s problems, not simply score partisan points. Someone who understands that negotiation is essential in a representative democracy, and that there are good ideas across the political spectrum. Someone who has a well-defined set of core values but is not so rigid that he ignores new information and new conditions. Someone who has shown himself to be honest and trustworthy. And competent. Someone whose positions are well-reasoned and based on the world as it is rather than as he pretends it to be. Someone with the temperament and judgment and experience to be taken seriously as the commander in chief and leader of the free world.

We think Mr. Romney could demonstrate those characteristics. Mr. Huntsman already does. And we are proud to endorse him for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.