Wait. Was that a GOP ticket last night?

Many commented during the Huntsman-Gingrich debate last night that the discussion was more akin to a ‘think-tank’ panel. I’d say it was two men feeling each other out as running mates

Huntsman and Gingrich got along incredibly well
On 13 December 2011 15:52

Newt, (in)glorious Newt! Depending on whom you speak to of course, you could leave that parenthetical modifier in, or delete as necessary. The point is that this is a man who polarises the GOP more than any other candidate. Even Rick Santorum doesn’t attract as much opprobrium.

So last night, as I took a bath and settled in to watch the #LDDebate (what, too much information?) I couldn’t get it out of my head that Gingrich is interviewing running mates. Huntsman, as you know from my previous comments, would have definitely cut the mustard.

The event, which much of the pundit-o-cracy referred to as more of a ‘think-tank discussion’ than a high intensity debate, was one reserved for grown ups.

Some political commentators were mortified to see these potential presidential nominees actually discussing nuances, rather than firing thirty-second bursts of hyperbole and hubris across each other’s bow.

From the Middle-East and War on Terror to China, the EU and America’s role in the world, the discussion was mature and well-mannered – both candidates looked eminently presidential.

It saddens me to think that many people would have tuned out having seen neither candidate attempt to score easy points by making bets or telling fibs. But those who watched and imbibed to the end will be the torchbearers for a more mature discussion on the issues come the Republican convention next summer.

The debate format was so successful in the eyes of both candidates that Huntsman challenged Romney to something similar. There is little chance of Mitt giving fuel to Huntsman’s growing fire – but after this one – people will wonder what keeps Romney away from these longer, sit-down debates.

No one could have ignored the fact that Huntsman and Gingrich got along incredibly well, either. The two seemed to agree on many details, including the Iranian threat to the United States and her allies. In the post-debate spin room, Huntsman was heard to remark, “Based on Speaker Gingrich's excellent performance he is definitely, definitely, definitely at the top of my [Vice President] shortlist.” I’m sure the feeling is mutual.

Both candidates lavished praise on each other last night and although they didn’t agree on absolutely everything – it would make great strategic sense for these two to pair up.

Huntsman offers a clean, family-man record of consistent and moderate conservatism. Gingrich offers an incredibly well versed, intelligent, Washington-insider dynamic. Although he comes tainted, as opinion polls have confirmed, the GOP field is so weak that voters are beginning to forgive Newt of his former transgressions.

The fact that Huntsman runs to the left of the Republican Party is a major boon to Gingrich – as no independent or former Obama supporter could make the leap from the centre to Newtopia. They may however say something like, “I’m not keen on that Gingrich guy, but Huntsman will keep him grounded.” The ardent, old school (i.e. non-Tea Party Republicans) will feel the inverse of that.

So the question must then be asked, ‘Whither the Tea Party?’ Though ‘wither’ might be more appropriate. Frankly, I’m not sure.

Someone like Ron Paul or Gary Johnson could steal a lot of them away for a third-party ticket, and a lot of the religious types may feel comfortable voting for Gingrich. One thing will be for certain – as much as the Tea Party will split the vote, the nominees will split the Tea Party.

While perhaps I am getting slightly ahead of myself, I’d like to be able to say ‘I called it’. Gingrich-Huntsman or Huntsman-Gingrich could pose a serious threat to Barack Obama in 2012. Presumably that’s why the DNC have been putting out bizarre ‘attack’ ads like this one.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. You can follow him and his US political coverage at: @RaheemJKassam

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