Romney and Huntsman have differing leadership styles

Matthew Wilson, political scientist at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, talks about the leadership role of the President of the United States.

By Lisa Riley Roche

SALT LAKE CITY — Two of the GOP presidential candidates seem a lot alike — both held key roles in Utah, both served as governors, both have private-sector experience, both are members of the LDS Church and both come from influential families.

The biggest difference between Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr., though, may well be their distinct leadership styles.

Romney, credited with turning around the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after making millions of dollars in the business world, is viewed as a CEO, despite a term as governor of Massachusetts.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor who has spent time overseas serving as U.S. ambassador — including a prestigious posting in China — in addition to helping run his family's international chemical empire, is seen as a diplomat.

It's a difference that voters are beginning to see on the campaign trail.

Romney sells himself as a successful executive ready to run the country like a business and take the action needed to end its economic woes. It's a strategy that's helped him stay in front of the GOP pack through much of the race.

Huntsman, however, is languishing in national polls. Largely unknown, he is portraying himself as an offbeat outsider whose interests include rock music and motorcycle rallies, in addition to being a diplomat well versed in world affairs....

Diplomat, though, isn't usually a description that comes to mind when choosing a president, said Matthew Wilson, a professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who specializes in religion and politics.

"The presidency is an executive position," Wilson said. "Most people see that as a CEO rather than a diplomat. The president is the nation's chief executive, so in that sense, there's a more natural transition from a corporate leadership model to the presidency than there is from a diplomacy model."

A president is bombarded by so many voices clamoring to be heard, he said, it can be difficult to even listen to all of them, let alone take the time to work through their differences as a diplomat would do.

"If the president truly does try to reach a broad consensus of everyone, he can be paralyzed into inaction," Wilson said. "That's one of the pitfalls of the diplomacy model."

Voters, he said, appreciated former President George W. Bush's declaration that he was the nation's "decider," and have criticized Obama for not taking more decisive action on some issues.

Romney is showcasing his corporate leadership skills on the campaign trail. "His experience in the private sector, in business, marks him," Wilson said. "Romney obviously has very wide recognition."

But he said the country's voters know little about Huntsman.

"Quite honestly, I think the national perception of Jon Huntsman is, 'Oh, he's the other Mormon out there.' That's about as deep as the knowledge goes," Wilson said.

Huntsman's service as U.S. ambassador to China under Obama doesn't mean much to voters, he said, because it doesn't communicate any particular view or ideology — just experience as a diplomat.

"That's a line on his resume, which is good. But again, if you were to try to say what's Jon Huntsman's signature issue or Jon Huntsman's new and bold proposal, I'm not sure most people could come up with anything."