If Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign had a theme or a defining characteristic—something voters might easily identify with the candidate—it was probably his often-repeated contention that the country was facing a “trust deficit” between its citizens and elected officials. It’s no small irony, then, that if Huntsman’s campaign accomplished anything at all—a debatable proposition—it was to grow that trust deficit.
The very idea of a Huntsman candidacy feeds cynicism about politics: He left his job as Utah governor to serve a then-extraordinarily popular president, a man he called a “remarkable leader.” He served until April 30, 2011, moved back to the United States and, less than two months later, announced that he was running to replace Obama and suggesting that his former boss had been an historic failure.
From its earliest moments, his campaign gave voters reason not to trust him. His announcement, a clarion call for civility in politics, came days after his chief strategist, John Weaver, suggested that Republicans were a party of “cranks.”
On the day of his announcement, a campaign video observed that “not all conservatives must be loud or angry,” but in an interview with Sean Hannity recorded immediately after his speech, Huntsman praised the Tea Party for the “anger and outrage” as the proper response of a frustrated electorate.
For several months, Huntsman dabbled in policy—offering a naïve return to non-interventionism overseas and a strong economic plan here at home. He never caught on, perhaps because voters didn’t trust him.
And for good reason. On Monday, Huntsman, with furrowed brow, pleaded for renewed civility in our politics. “I call on each campaign to cease attacking each other,” he declared haughtily. This, from a politician who, a week earlier in New Hampshire, pretended that frontrunner Mitt Romney actually took pleasure out of adding to unemployment rolls. “Governor Romney enjoys firing people,” he said. “I enjoy creating jobs.” Huntsman took Romney’s comment—that consumers should be able to fire insurance companies that treat them badly—so out of context that even the news media cried foul.
So the campaign ends as it began. Last week, Huntsman called Romney “unelectable.” Today, he endorsed Romney citing his . . . electability.
There is, indeed, a trust deficit in American politics. We know why.