During the next few days, we’ll probably see a surge of rose-tinted, wistful commentary on Jon Huntsman — how he was both the most conservative and most reasonable candidate, whose one flaw was he ran for president during a time when the Republican Party had become radically dogmatic/extreme/anti-intellectual/uncompromising.
This is ridiculous. It’s hard to imagine there would ever have been a time when someone like Huntsman would be popular with conservatives. His problem wasn’t that he had a few moderate positions – plenty of Republican voters could have lived with that. His problem was always tone. He came off as self-righteous when arguing from the left, but deferential and respectful when arguing from the right.
Then there was his reputation as the Republican scold. Take, for example, his gratuitous criticism of the GOP field in his withdrawal speech today:
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman abandoned his quest for the presidency Monday morning with an endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and an unexpectedly sharp condemnation of the “toxic” tone that the Republican primary battle has taken.
“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in American history,” Huntsman said in a news conference in which he was flanked by his wife, children, father and South Carolina supporters.
There have been a lot of unfair attacks in the race, but that’s pretty typical of any primary season. And it’s not like Huntsman’s hands are clean here. He’s taken plenty of shots at the other candidates, including recently blasting Mitt Romney for saying he “enjoys firing people.” Huntsman had a lot of great attributes as a candidate, but writers and pundits shouldn’t gloss over the main reason he never caught on. It was his attitude, not his ideas.