A year or more ago there were some political observers who saw Jon Huntsman as a coming man in the Republican Party. Most thought he would wait until 2016 to run for president, but the former Utah governor and ambassador to China was a future contender to be reckoned with. But after his disastrous presidential campaign comes to an end today, speculation about his political future will be kept to a minimum. Huntsman’s bid for the GOP nomination was not, as many have already noted, just a matter of the wrong man at the wrong time. The campaign spotlight unmercifully exposed the candidate’s weaknesses and bad judgment. No one should expect a rerun in 2016 in the event of a Republican defeat this November.
Huntsman’s was, from the start, a bizarrely conceived candidacy. Though he had impeccable conservative credentials on most domestic issues, Huntsman’s decision to position himself as the leading moderate in the race to lead a deeply conservative party was a blunder from which he could never recover. His anti-war foreign policy stances were best suited to a Democratic audience, not a Republican one. That accounted for the consistently laudatory coverage he received in the mainstream press. But the idea that Republicans would ever nominate a man who was best described as a liberal’s idea of a Republican was farcical.
The vast financial resources at his command could not disguise the fact that Huntsman’s campaign was poorly led and executed. The decision to concentrate his efforts on New Hampshire where independents and Democrats can vote wasn’t wrong. But non-Republicans were far more likely to back Romney and especially the libertarian outlier Ron Paul more than Huntsman. In the end, according to Politico, even his wealthy father thought it was foolish to pour money into this hopeless effort. The only smart thing he did in the last six months was to pull out and endorse Mitt Romney while such a statement might be said to have done the frontrunner some good.
As for his future, it’s possible to imagine Huntsman getting some kind of appointment in a putative Romney administration. But he should forget about another presidential run. That’s not just because the next generation of political talent in the GOP such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie will eclipse him. Huntsman’s performance on the stump and in the debates was so poor as to render him an unlikely prospect for the future. While he committed no absurd gaffe in the manner of Rick Perry, his arch and condescending tone in the debates was more than off-putting. His tendency to comment on the proceedings as if he were in the peanut gallery, to make ill-considered quips quoting songs and, finally, his decision to answer a Romney riposte in Chinese (to show how much smarter he was than his rivals) told us everything we needed to know about his personality.
Republicans like to nominate a candidate who has run before but never one who has had such a disastrous tryout. Like Rudy Giuliani, a man who qualified far more for the White House, Huntsman’s first impression on the presidential campaign trail will be his last.