Jon Huntsman: Can a Nice Guy Finish First?

His setting evoked memories of Reagan's campaign but speech was very different.

ByABC News
June 21, 2011, 11:46 AM

June 21, 2011— -- The Jon Huntsman campaign seems designed to test whether a nice guy who doesn't speak ill of his opponents can get elected president.

"We will conduct this campaign on the high road," Huntsman said. "I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation to run for president."

And so Huntsman launched his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in a most unusual way: with kind words for President Obama.

"I respect the president of the U.S.," said Huntsman. "He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love. The question is who will be a better president, not who's the better American."

That was Huntsman's only reference to Obama, and even there, he didn't say his name. No mention of "Obamacare." No attack on the stimulus program. No direct criticism of Obama or his administration.

The setting for Huntsman's announcement was designed to evoke the launch of Ronald Reagan's general election campaign in 1980. The stylistic details were almost perfect: the Statue of Liberty over his shoulder and American flags at his side gently fluttering in the wind.

But Huntsman's speech couldn't have been more different. Where Huntsman steered clear of attacks, Reagan used his speech to eviscerate Jimmy Carter.

"The Carter record is a litany of despair, of broken promises, of sacred trusts abandoned and forgotten," Reagan said.

And more:

"Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well, if it's a definition he wants, I'll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. Recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

And still more:

"Call this human tragedy whatever you want. Whatever it is, it is Jimmy Carter's. He caused it. He tolerates it. And he is going to answer to the American people for it."

It's not that Huntsman can't attack. Check out what he said about the Republican leadership in Congress in February 2009:

"I don't even know the congressional leadership," Huntsman told The Washington Times. "I have not met them. I don't listen or read whatever it is they say, because it is inconsequential -- completely."