Club for Growth Hits Huntsman

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The Club for Growth is a conservative advocacy group that favors lower taxes (and a flat tax), less spending, privatizing Social Security, deregulation, free trade, and so on. But its practical mission is weeding out moderates from the Republican Party. It seems to relish targeting the GOP’s grizzled veterans in favor of younger, more conservative replacements — Bob Bennett, who compiled a lengthy, largely conservative record, was an early target in the 2010 cycle — and it hasn’t lavished any love on the current crop of presidential contenders. The Club slapped Mitt Romney for supporting “big government solutions to health care and oppos[ing] pro-growth tax code reform.” It was wary of Tim Pawlenty, calling him “overly eager to support big government proposals to address policy fads of the day.”

So it’s not particularly surprising that the Club was skeptical of Jon Huntsman’s candidacy. “Governor Huntsman is often a frustrating political figure,” the authors write in their latest white paper. In particular, the Club was miffed by Huntsman’s spending record. As I wrote recently, Huntsman has come under fire in the past from conservative organizations for the increase in spending levels in Utah during his tenure; in 2008, the Cato Institute argued he had “completely dropped the ball on spending.” The Club for Growth is harsher, calling Huntsman’s record on spending “inexcusable” and arguing that his “failing grades on controlling state spending raise serious questions” about his ability to trim the bloated federal budget.

The group has other quarrels as well. It notes Huntsman’s consideration of an individual mandate for buying health insurance, his former support for a regional cap-and-trade deal, his statements about TARP, and his “love letters” to Presidents Obama and Clinton. “Cap-and-trade, more stimulus, and bailouts were all anti-growth positions supported by…Governor Huntsman,” the authors write.

The assessment has several bright spots as well. Huntsman “shined on tax policy,” cutting sales taxes and ushering in a flat income tax rate. And the group praises the former deputy U.S. trade rep for his trade policies and his “deregulatory tendencies.”

“We will run on our record of accomplishments and our achievements,” Huntsman told reporters during his campaign debut Tuesday. In an email to the Washington Post, spokesman Tim Miller defended that record. Huntsman’s tenure in Utah “saw balanced budgets, reduced waste, a rainy day fund that grew by one-third — during a recession — and the largest tax cut in the state’s history,” he wrote to the Fix. “This fiscal management resulted in Utah growing at more than double the national rate, adding more jobs than any state in the country. That is the kind of economic record that our country needs.”