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Mitt Romney snubbed by Massachusetts' top newspaper

January 6, 2012 | 11:44 am

Jon Huntsman in Concord NH Jan 6
Doesn't anybody love former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney? The editorial board of the Boston Globe, arguably New England's flagship newspaper, on Friday endorsed Jon Huntsman Jr. over Romney for the GOP presidential nomination. Given that Massachusetts' GOP primary (I know, I know, but there really are Republicans in Massachusetts) isn't until March, the endorsement is clearly aimed at voters in nearby New Hampshire, who hold their first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday. That's the state where Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa GOP caucuses, has piled all his chips.

An endorsement from the Globe won't make Huntsman or break Romney. It's not as influential as a nod from the conservative Manchester Union Leader, which backed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in November. That's when Gingrich's star was rising; his numbers in New Hampshire are heading in the other direction now.

Romney said the left-leaning Globe board was expected to be in his corner; the paper endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Romney in the 2008 race. The smaller, right-leaning Boston Herald last week backed Romney unequivocally.

And the Globe wasn't exactly critical of Romney. Instead, it mainly argued that he's spent the campaign pandering, not laying out a vision for the future. Huntsman, by contrast, has been "bold."

The problem with the Globe's endorsement, though, is that it practically paints Huntsman as a Democrat:

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. He has stood up far more forcefully than Romney against those in his party who reject evolution and the science behind global warming....

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. 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.

If I were Huntsman, I might be inclined to say, "Thanks but no thanks." The heart of Huntsman's campaign, at least at this point, is not his ability to work across the aisle or his support for solar power. It's his economic plan, which is built around a simpler, flatter tax code with lower rates. In September the true-red conservatives on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board judged it "better than anything so far from the GOP presidential field," and they haven't revised that stance.

As much as liberals want to focus on Huntsman's digressions from the socially conservative, climate-change-disputing GOP orthodoxy, his positions on economic issues, regulation and the size of government are unmistakably in the Republican wheelhouse. He reminds me of former Rep. Tom Campbell, as conservative and anti-Keynesian as they come on economic issues but not ideological on social issues. Don't be fooled -- neither man would be comfortable at a Democratic convention.

There was a time when the Republican "big tent" was built around a few basic conservative premises: that markets are better suited than government to guide the economy, and that competition does a better job protecting the public's interest than regulation. That was before conservatives began to see government as a bulwark against perceived threats to their vision of family values. I've never been able to reconcile those two notions of government, frankly; the latter is far more intrusive than the former. (And libertarians, before you jump in, please explain again why Ron Paul thinks it's OK for states to effectively eliminate abortion rights?)

At any rate, if the GOP primaries were just about economics and the role of government, Huntsman would probably have taken his turn as flavor of the month by now. The Globe is more interested in the other aspects of the campaign, bringing up the things that Democrats like about Huntsman -- the things that have made it hard for his candidacy to climb out of the single-digit dungeon.

RELATED:

Jon Huntsman bids for the Occupy Wall Street vote

It's Rick Santorum's turn

Mitt Romney: Not a sure bet

What happened to Michele Bachmann?

-- Jon Healey

Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

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