Some things haven't changed since 2008: for the second time, the largest newspaper in Massachusetts has endorsed someone other than former Gov. Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination.
The editorial board of The Boston Globe did have some words of praise for Romney, who it called one of only two candidates -- the other being Jon Huntsman -- who stand out as truly presidential. But its endorsement, made just four days before the New Hampshire primary, went to Huntsman.
Both have track records of success, and both, through their policies and demeanors, have shown the breadth of spirit to lead the nation, the editorial board wrote. But while Romney proceeds cautiously, strategically, trying to appease enough constituencies to get himself the nomination, Huntsman has been bold. Rather than merely sketch out policies, he articulates goals and ideals. The priorities he would set for the country, from leading the world in renewable energy to retooling education and immigration policies to help American high-tech industries, are far-sighted.
The Globe: Huntsman Stands Up to Far Right
The Globe praised Huntsman specifically for having the courage to stand up to the far-right elements in the Republican Party that reject things like evolution and climate change. The ideal president, it said, would be someone who would pursue Republican policies -- to blaze a path to bipartisan action on the budget, to introduce market-based solutions to health costs and to construct a post-Iraq War network of alliances to promote global economic strength, knowing that true security comes from both peace and prosperity -- but rejects the more extreme ideologies espoused by candidates like Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.
Rather than compare creative policy solutions, the candidates have vied for meaningless titles like 'true conservative,' The Globe wrote. Rather than outline a vision for a safer world, they've signaled a return to Bush-era posturing and disdain for allies who don't blindly serve American interests.
Huntsman, it said, has done the opposite, and his record as governor of Utah shows that he is both conservative and willing to compromise when needed.
Huntsman governed Utah as a clear conservative who nonetheless put the interests of his state ahead of ideology, the newspaper wrote.
When the national economy fell into recession, some Republican governors made a show of rejecting federal stimulus money on ideological grounds; sensibly, Huntsman took the money. While he endorsed the notion of a federal stimulus, he also offered a credible critique of the way the Democratic Congress had structured the plan, it continued. Then, when Obama offered him the post of ambassador to China, Huntsman accepted. Other Republicans, such as New Hampshire's Judd Gregg, couldn't bring themselves to accept entreaties from a Democratic president. Huntsman did. It attests to his sincerity when he vows to lead in a bipartisan spirit.
The Globe listed a number of policies, both conservative and moderate, that Huntsman supported as governor: a flat tax, but also tax credits to solar energy companies; a school choice plan, but also an initiative setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
It also highlighted his views on immigration (though he reluctantly came to support a fence along the Mexican border, he avoids the demonization of illegal immigrants employed by Romney and some other candidates. And he smartly recognizes that border crackdowns aren't the only immigration issues. He wants to expand visas for highly skilled, job-creating immigrants, a crucial step in preserving American technological dominance) and his views on foreign policy, particularly toward China (while other candidates point toward Cold War-style rejection and isolation of China, Huntsman promises deeper engagement. But he had the courage as ambassador to walk among protesters, drawing the ire of repressive Chinese authorities).
Some Praise for Romney
Despite its endorsement, The Globe did not dismiss Romney entirely: it praised his governorship, for example, as a scandal-free meritocracy and said he would be a hands-on steward of the national economy, with more than the usual presidential expertise. It did, however, offer a great deal of pointed criticism.
While Romney showed glimmers of the same qualities as Huntsman displayed during his time as governor of Massachusetts, he has taken pains to distance himself from much of his administration, the paper noted. Now, he campaigns in a way that gives little indication of the kind of president he would be. His attacks on Obama are so hyperbolic -- the president favors European-style socialism, apologizes for America, doesn't understand the vision of the Founding Fathers -- that they say nothing about his own viewpoint; most likely, he's trying to stir up enough dust to suggest a passionate denunciation of Obama without offering a disciplined critique or alternative course. When he vows to 'get rid of Obamacare' and trim programs like the National Endowment for the Arts, he's merely checking boxes on the GOP playlist.
As for foreign policy, it says, Backed by a team including many Bush-era hawks and neoconservatives, Romney offers bellicose language about Iran, forceful denunciations of Chinese currency manipulation and unyielding -- and entirely uncritical -- support for Israel. At a time when most of Washington is inching toward bipartisan trims in defense spending, Romney is proposing an improbably ambitious expansion of the Navy.
The Boston Globe is the largest newspaper in New England by circulation, and it has a number of subscribers in southern New Hampshire, which shares a border with Massachusetts. In 2008, it endorsed John McCain over Romney, and McCain went on to win the New Hampshire primary in a major upset that propelled him toward the nomination and spelled the beginning of the end for Romney's campaign.
Its endorsement this time around is something of a coup for Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses and has staked his campaign on a strong showing in New Hampshire, whose Republican voters tend to be friendlier to moderate candidates. He is polling substantially better there than he is anywhere else -- 9.3 percent in the RealClearPolitics average -- but that is down slightly from last week. He has fallen into fourth place after Newt Gingrich edged past him, and a Suffolk University tracking poll released Friday showed him in fifth place thanks to a post-Iowa surge by Santorum.
Huntsman needs to be in the top three in New Hampshire at a bare minimum -- he has said himself that he will drop out of the race if he can't manage that -- but if he wants real momentum going into the subsequent primaries, he needs to finish first or second, and that will be a tall order given that Romney is averaging nearly 40 percent in the polls and Paul just over 20 percent.
A Huntsman nomination is possible, especially in a race as volatile as this one has been -- remember, no one thought Santorum had a chance until he came out of nowhere last week -- but it would be naive to say it is likely. The Globe acknowledged as much, but said Huntsman can still make a difference in the race even if he doesn't win.
Even if Romney emerges as the nominee, it matters how he gets there, it wrote. Already, the religious right, represented by Rick Santorum, and Tea Party activists, represented by Ron Paul, have pushed Romney in unwanted directions. In New Hampshire, Republican and independent voters have a chance, through Huntsman, to show him a sturdier model. Jon Huntsman would be a better president. But if he fails, he could still make Romney a better candidate.