The Campaign Spot

No Longer in the Hunt-sman

Jon Huntsman calls it a campaign:

MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina (Reuters) — Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman will drop out of the White House race on Monday and endorse front-runner Mitt Romney, a senior campaign official said.

Hey, remember that guy who I’ve spent the past couple months insisting was unacceptable as our party’s nominee? Today I say, vote for him!

David Axelrod tweaks, “With ‘16 in mind, Huntsman backs the man he’s called ‘a perfectly lubricated weather vane,’ who has ‘been on 3 sides of every major issue.’”

Perhaps this is one of the reasons candidates should try to avoid letting primary fights get too intense; the about-face of an eventual endorsement can induce whiplash.

In June of last year, as his campaign began, the flaws of a Huntsman candidacy were obvious:

Never has a candidate with such a sterling résumé faced such a steep climb for the nomination — probably because few presidential candidates have worked for their prospective opponent, at least in the modern era. (Thomas Jefferson had worked for John Adams, but this was back when the second-place finisher in the presidential election assumed the office of vice president; Gen. George McClellan worked for Abraham Lincoln; Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott worked for Franklin Pierce; William Howard Taft worked for Theodore Roosevelt. More recently, Colin Powell served for about a year under President Clinton, but he decided against a run in 1996.) At the time, Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan, among others, declared that Huntsman’s accepting the appointment as President Obama’s ambassador to China would make it impossible for him to become the Republican nominee in 2012.

Huntsman says that in his meetings with voters in his not-quite-campaign stage, he has encountered criticism for his service under a Democratic president, but not often. “I can usually see it in their eyes when I meet them,” he says. “But it has come up much less frequently than I expected.”

He emphasizes his beliefs that as ambassador he was serving the country, not President Obama, and that there is in fact a broad bipartisan agreement on U.S.-China relations…

But in a candidate lineup that may feature Sarah Palin’s biting sarcasm, the combativeness of Michele Bachmann, and the raw conservatism of Herman Cain and Rick Santorum, will the polite, easygoing, Zen style of Huntsman stand out on a stage? And will GOP primary voters want that style?

Huntsman brings a wide range of accomplishments and life experiences to the race for the Republican nomination for president, a race that will feature a one-term Massachusetts governor and perhaps a less-than-one-term Alaska governor. But the question remains whether he’ll prove to be too nice a guy for members of the GOP grassroots who are eager to see their nominee take the bark off a failing president.

Huntsman never found a way to justify his work for Obama to a skeptical GOP base, and his criticism of the president never stood out in the field. As Ed Morrissey put it, “He governed in Utah as a conservative in a state controlled by the GOP, but talked like a centrist who despised conservatives. Huntsman’s expensive and embarrassing flop really isn’t much more complicated than that.”

It turns out he didn’t have enough points to purchase that “ticket to ride” he talked about in New Hampshire.

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