Q&A Friday #55: Can Duncan Hunter Win The Primaries?

Question: Presidential candidate Rep. Hunter is a conservative except, as you’ve noted, when it comes to his protectionist tendencies (e.g. opposing NAFTA).

Do you think that a somewhat-protectionist but otherwise capitalist conservative can win in the Republican Party presidential primaries?

I really have reservations about how much our economy has been opened and left vulnerable to foreign manipulation (e.g. China’s undervalued currency). I feel that Republicans could stand to gain votes from moderates and the union crowd if they became a little more aggressive about fighting unfair foreign trade practices. What are your thoughts?” — RepublicanPig1

Answer: Here’s the thing: Hunter is not running against the perfect prototypical conservative who has conservative views on every subject. To the contrary, he’s running against real people who deviate from the conservative orthodoxy on a lot of fronts.

For example, the two front runners right now appear to be John McCain & Rudy Giuliani. Although I am a free trader and don’t agree with Hunter on that issue, I also don’t agree with McCain on campaign finance reform, his incredibly broad definition of “torture,” global warming, the protection of marriage amendment, illegal immigration, etc., etc. When it comes to Rudy Giuliani, you have a guy who is pro-abortion, pro-amnesty, pro-gun control, etc., etc. So personally — and I think this will be true for most conservatives — despite my difference with him on trade, I still have much more in common ideologically with Hunter than I do with Giuliani or McCain.

Moreover, let me add that Hunter’s views on the free trade issue would probably be very useful in appealing to blue collar Democrats working in factories, mills, unions, etc. The sort of things Hunter is saying about CAFTA, NAFTA, and China would be music to their ears and I think a lot of them could be persuaded to vote for him because of it.

I’m not endorsing him or anything at this point (I probably won’t pick the candidate I’m going to get behind until shortly before the first primary), but I think Duncan Hunter would be the most electable candidate that the GOP could run in 2008. He has no serious baggage that I’ve seen, served in Vietnam, has enormous credibility and experience on defense issues, a tough anti-illegal immigration stance, favors a Balanced Budget Amendment, wants a 2/3 majority to raise taxes. I believe he would pull in some Democratic voters because of his trade stance and I think he’s a candidate that conservatives would actually turn out to vote for (as opposed to say, turning out just because they don’t want Hillary in the White House).

Can Hunter gain the name recognition and backing he needs to have a real shot of winning the nomination? That remains to be seen at this point, but since Republicans desperately seem to be searching for someone to represent the conservative wing of the Republican Party and since Hunter seems to fit the bill better than anyone else running, I think a meteoric rise into the top tier over the next few months is within the realm of possibility for him.

PS: Granted, the best candidates for the presidency are usually governors, but when you look at the candidates in the race, the pickings are pretty slim at the moment. Huckabee? No. Pataki? Please. Romney? The only reason he is even getting a hard look from people is because so many conservatives really don’t like the idea of having McCain or Giuliani as a candidate.

PS #2: When Howard Dean ran in 2004, he built up name recognition and buzz online. Then, when he won the MoveON.org primary, people started to take him seriously as a candidate. The same thing could happen with Hunter. If he can build up some buzz and win or place surprisingly high in a prominent poll (like the National Journal Insider’s Poll), then next thing you know, people will start to give him a hard look. So, although a guy like Hunter would have had no chance to get up into the top tier in, let’s say 2000, because of the new media in today’s political environment, he has a real chance to pull it off if he can appeal to conservatives.

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