Huntsman scolds GOP for losing focus, will skip convention
Washington • Still smarting from his unsuccessful presidential campaign, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman won't attend next month's Republican National Convention or future GOP gatherings until the party starts to tackle the "bigger" issues.
Huntsman, who says he has been at every convention since 1984 when he was a delegate for Ronald Reagan, told The Salt Lake Tribune in a statement that he's been asked repeatedly whether he would attend the August convention in Tampa, Fla., but noted that he is skipping it.
"I will not be attending this year's convention, nor any Republican convention in the future," Huntsman said, "until the party focuses on a bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States a future based on problem solving, inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the trust deficit, which is every bit as corrosive as our fiscal and economic deficits."
Huntsman had racked up two national delegates with his third-place finish in New Hampshire and another from the Texas primary, a point that could have guaranteed him a speaking role. But Huntsman has released those delegates to Mitt Romney and endorsed the now-presumptive nominee.
The former Utah governor was uninvited to a Republican National Committee event in Florida in March after he suggested that the nation needed a third-party candidate who offered an alternative to the Republican and Democratic options.
In a statement this week, Huntsman said he wanted his party to return to its moorings that mirrored his last-minute campaign theme of "Country First."
"I encourage a return to the party we have been in the past," he said, "from Lincoln right on through to Reagan, that was always willing to put our country before politics."
Former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Fergus Cullen, who had endorsed Huntsman in the Granite State's primary, said he has seen fellow party members get irritated with their own party. He pointed to Sen. John McCain, who "took a couple years before becoming what might be described as a team player" after his 2000 primary loss.
"I can only imagine what a searing process it must be to run for president and then, when it doesn't work out, I can understand why someone may be frustrated and upset about that," Cullen said. "That's part of politics."
Overall, Cullen said, he sees Huntsman's comments as representative of who he is: a fundamentally independent-minded person. And the former chairman sees the GOP as a big-tent party that will welcome him back.
"It's like your family," Cullen said. "You don't always agree with them every day, but you're still committed to them."
University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank said he, too, can understand Huntsman being frustrated with his party losing candidates often are.
"On the other hand, even if he felt that way, to announce it publicly, that's a bigger step," Burbank said. "Particularly to say, in essence, the party is on the wrong track; they don't like to hear that. That's something that could come back at some point to haunt him."
The bigger trouble for Huntsman, Burbank added, is if Romney is elected president because it's doubtful the GOP would be happy with Huntsman in any administration post.
Several Republicans and Democrats facing tough elections this year have opted against attending their respective national conventions, including Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah.
Huntsman appears to be the first 2012 Republican presidential contender to say that he would avoid the national gathering, a scripted show to highlight the party's standard-bearer and launch its fall push for the White House.
Huntsman was thought to be a serious candidate for the GOP ticket but failed to gain traction with voters and whittled down his campaign to focus on New Hampshire, which held the first primary.
He withdrew from the race days later and has since castigated his party for sound-bite politics and criticized the gantlet that candidates face to win the nomination.
In 2008, Huntsman had a key role in the GOP's gathering in St. Paul, Minn., where he introduced vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and spoke on behalf of then-nominee McCain.
The Republican National Convention is Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla.
The Democratic National Convention is Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, N.C.