The media might love Jon Huntsman, but it's less clear that Republicans do.
Jim DeMint says he won't back any candidate who doesn't back a Balanced Budget Amendment? Huntsman will back a Balanced Budget Amendment, because "every governor in this country has a balanced budget amendment." (Very few states have defense budgets, though.)
Twenty percent of Americans won't back a Mormon candidate? Huntsman is merely "proud of my Mormon roots" with a relationship to the church that's "tough to define."
That last Huntsmanism might be the most blasé thing a modern candidate has said about his church. In context, it looks like incredible adaptability. That skill can last for a while—again, ask Barack Obama—but in New Jersey Huntsman found himself saying what every other Republican says. All he added was that lede-ready layer of niceness. There was none of the pragmatism or praise for government policy that marked Huntsman's six month career as an Acceptable Republican. The closest we got was something about "reestablish[ing] what it means to be a teacher in society," which could easily be a plug for Michelle Rhee. Instead of the Huntsman who provided cover for Democrats, we heard the philosophy of those people he used to call "inconsequential."
"We must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster," said Huntsman. "If we don't, in less than a decade, every dollar of federal revenue will go to covering the costs of Medicare, Social Security and interest payments on our debt." How to avert it? "We must make broad and bold changes to our tax code and regulatory policies" and "seize the lost opportunity of energy independence" and remember that "fiscal responsibility and economic growth" are two great tastes that go great together.
Is that it? The White House needed someone like Huntsman in those first surprisingly stormy months of 2009. The GOP's primary voters aren't so needy.
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of Jon Huntsman by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.