The party Huntsman imagined — modernizing, reforming, and youthful — could still be born. That might be the reaction to a second smashing defeat at Obama's hands, or that might be where President Romney takes his re-election campaign. But it's now hard to see Huntsman leading that change. He bet, too early, on a fantasy, and ran for the nomination of a party that doesn't exist, at least not yet.
The sorts of voters who liked Huntsman: Moderates who will naturally move to Romney, Democrats and liberals who can feel better about their Ron Paul protest votes. The number of voters who fit this profile moving forward: minimal. Which was always the problem. You work with the party you have, not with the party you may wish you had.
Although Mr. Huntsman had relatively little support in the polls outside of New Hampshire, recent surveys suggested that the plurality of his supporters had Mr. Romney as their second choice.
The first, and most obvious problem with Huntsman was that he was just dull– on a debate stage, a campaign rally or nearly any other venue. The most memorable details of his campaign kickoff in front of the Statue of Liberty were the fact that it was in front of the Statue of Liberty and that his staff spelled his name wrong on his campaign materials. What did he say in his speech? Who knows?
Huntsman's problem was that, whatever his position on some key issues, he sent out political and cultural signals that screamed NPR, and not Fox News, that screamed liberal, and not conservative. Even though conservatives agreed with Huntsman on many things, they instinctively sensed he wasn't their guy.
Jon Huntsman wasn’t a “pragmatic centrist who could reach out to Democrats.” 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.
As a relative moderate running in a bull market for conservatives, Huntsman may have been doomed from the start, but he inflicted further damage by failing to zero in on a message.
Huntsman's endorsement likely won't make much of a difference at the ballot box (the "Huntsman voter moves to Romney" jokes were fast and furious on Twitter) but, as the Democratic National Committee is already pointing out to reporters, it will provide an interesting contrast with…Jon Huntsman's previous statements. Huntsman's spent much of the last six months trying to tear Romney down, in speeches, debates, and advertisements (most of which have now been taken down from YouTube).
Huntsman had said he had a “ticket to ride” after coming in third place in New Hampshire. What he really had was an indication that seventeen per cent of the voters in New Hampshire could still tolerate the sound of his voice; the only ticket was a rather crumpled one he could hand to Romney, for him to tuck in his pocket. And that’s about all Huntsman—who will be an early case study in the transition from not-Mitt to pro-Mitt—and the rest of us have been left with.
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 was preparing for, 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.
[E]ven though he lost the voting contest, he did very well indeed in the media contest and is nicely positioned to have another go in 2016.
(Photo: By Alex Wong/Getty Images.)