Former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has decided to leave the circuit of crazy wingnuts to themselves by quitting the GOP nomination race for this year’s presidential elections. The news comes barely a week after Huntsman declared that his third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary was a “ticket to ride” in South Carolina.
While Huntsman is expected to make a formal announcement later today, his campaign manager Matt David has confirmed the decision to the press. “The governor and his family, at this point in the race, decided it was time for Republicans to rally around a candidate who could beat Barack Obama and turn around the economy,” he said. “That candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.” The Huntsman campaign, as it turns out, has quickly deleted all the anti-Romney ads that it created earlier.
Sam Stein of the Huffington Post writes of the race that Huntsman ran:
Once discussed as the candidate that the Obama reelection team found most challenging to face, Huntsman stumbled under the Klieg lights of the presidential campaign. One close adviser acknowledged, during the final days of the New Hampshire primary, that he found the transition from the world of international diplomacy to electoral politics “difficult to execute.” Complicating matters was fundraising, which failed to pick up after Huntsman’s initial entrance into the race.
There were green shoots along the way. Huntsman won the backing of several prominent editorial boards, including The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, which endorsed him less than 24 hours before his campaign announced he was leaving the race. During the final days of the New Hampshire primary, aides sincerely believed he was hitting his stride, with a sharp Sunday morning debate performance and a well-received final speech in Exeter, New Hampshire.
A second place finish would have made it much easier to keep the campaign going through South Carolina and into Florida. But Huntsman couldn’t break through. His final percentage of the vote (17) was more than top aides expected as recently as two days before New Hampshire held its primary. But it still came off as a disappointment.
One year ago, when my wife and I were headed back for several months in China and I had just heard the first rumblings that Huntsman, then still the serving ambassador in Beijing, might resign to run against Obama, I argued that the reports were hard to believe. The center of his party was moving away from the kind of “modern” positions he represented on evolution, environmentalism, and other social/cultural issues. Moreover, I thought, he would have a hard time running within the party against the very president who had appointed him and with whom he had worked very well.
Obviously those rumblings were correct, my initial skepticism was wrong — but the obstacles to Huntsman within the party were at least as formidable as they seemed then.
Huntsman has made some obvious missteps along the way, which there is no point in dwelling on now. The question I’ve long wondered about — based on my assumption that he wouldn’t / couldn’t win this time, and that the odds are still in Obama’s favor this fall — is whether having run, and lost, in 2012 will make him better or worse positioned for the run I had always assumed he had in mind, in 2016.
We can’t tell anything about politics in real time, but my guess at the moment is that the run will have left him somewhat better off, bruised and rejected as he and his (attractive) family and staff must be feeling now. He has trivially embarrassed himself in a way he’ll easily be able to make fun of next time, with his Tourette’s-style interjection of Mandarin one-liners at debates and on the stump. This will be the equivalent of Bill Clinton making fun of his embarrassment at the 1988 Democratic convention, where he was mocked and practically hooted off the stage for an interminable speech nominating Michael Dukakis. Huntsman embarrassed himself with another split-second decision he’ll have time to reflect upon and learn from. That was when he raised his hand, along with everyone else, in saying that he, too, would reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 for budget cuts rather than tax increases.