Political Animal


January 16, 2012 8:00 AM Huntsman exits, endorses ‘unelectable’ rival

By Steve Benen

It was only a matter of time. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and Obama administration official, has probably known for a long while that he would not be the Republican presidential nominee, at least not this year. It was only 10 days ago when Huntsman said he looks forward to the re-emergence of “a sane Republican Party based on real ideas.”

As a rule, candidates who believe their own party isn’t sane don’t win.

And sure enough, Huntsman, with no prospects of success, no fundraising, and a fleeing staff, has decided to call it a day.

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. will announce Monday that he is ending his bid for the Republican presidential nomination and endorsing Mitt Romney, narrowing the field and erasing a challenge to Mr. Romney from the moderate wing of his party.

Mr. Huntsman, who had hoped to use the South Carolina primary this week to revive his flagging candidacy, informed his advisers on Sunday that he was bowing to political reality and would back Mr. Romney, whom he accused a week ago of putting party ahead of country.

The timing of Huntsman’s departure is a little odd. There’s a debate tonight, which he’d already agreed to participate in, and over the weekend, Huntsman picked up the endorsement of South Carolina’s largest and most influential newspaper.

But the reality of the situation apparently wouldn’t budge. Huntsman put all of his eggs in one basket — betting everything on a strong showing in New Hampshire last week — and failed. There was simply no point in delaying the inevitable any further.

There is a certain irony to Huntsman’s meager showing: he was always the candidate Democrats feared most. Obama’s re-election team saw Huntsman as a very credible general-election candidate, with broad ideological appeal. It turns out, the guy just couldn’t get his own party to take him seriously.

Huntsman did, however, win over one enthusiastic constituency: the political media, which adored him to such an embarrassing degree, I’ve been surprised editors resisted the urge to draw little hearts around pictures of Huntsman before publication. Never before has a no-shot candidate, generating low-single-digit support in national polls, been the subject of such media attention and adulation. Unfortunately for him, that didn’t translate into a lot of votes.

What rankles this morning, though, is Huntsman’s immediate endorsement of Romney. Because they’ve competed for a similar intra-GOP contingent, Huntsman has been relentless in going after the frontrunner, as aggressively as anyone in either party. Less than a week ago, Huntsman told reporters that Romney “enjoys firing people; I enjoy creating jobs.” He added that Romney is “completely unelectable.”

And that’s just last week. In 2011, Huntsman and his campaign called Romney’s record on job creation “abysmal by every standard.” The campaign also put together a series of brutal web videos, attacking Romney on flip-flopping — all of which were quietly purged last night.

In any case, Huntsman didn’t necessarily embarrass himself in the race, and if President Obama wins re-election, the former governor will be fairly well positioned to give this another try in 2016, which may very well have been the point of this exercise in the first place.

As for the short-term impact, Huntsman’s support is pretty weak, but his supporters are likely to migrate to Romney, making it that much more likely that the frontrunner will continue to cruise towards the Republican nomination.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • DAY on January 16, 2012 8:06 AM:

    In sports it is called "trash talking"
    In politics it is called "campaign rhetoric."
    Neither has ANY bearing on the outcome of the contest.

  • lou on January 16, 2012 8:11 AM:

    Unite behind the divider.

    Of all the GOPers in this race Huntsman was the only one who garnered a bit of respect from me. All past tense now. Politics does indeed make strange bed fellows (and liars and hypocrites).

    Lets get on with the real fight.

  • hells littlest angel on January 16, 2012 8:13 AM:

    Huntsman throws his support to Romney, the one candidate with the strength to further divide the country with his attitude. I can't wait to see the photo of them hugging -- unless that ceremony doesn't allow non-Mormon witnesses.

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 8:19 AM:


    Ok, back to the real world:
    How long before the slobbering MSM pairs him with Evan Bayh for an AE 3rd Party run?

  • Danp on January 16, 2012 8:20 AM:

    Huntsman's legacy will be that he was the only non-Romney to be ignored. Endorsing Romney at this point suggests that he, too, lacks much moral conviction. Then again, anyone who kept the (R) after their name after Bush can't have much.

  • walt on January 16, 2012 8:22 AM:

    This meme that Huntsman was really running for 2016 needs to be retired. If Huntsman couldn't light a fire this time, why would next time be any different? The GOP base wants red meat. As a candidate, Huntsman gave them tofu. To be clear about this, the base doesn't necessarily need specific policy proposals. But it does need to feel that politics is war and that their guy badly wants to kill the other team.

    When a political party becomes coterminous with its media arm, there is no longer any distinction between campaigning and governing. Everything is about winning, which means the party relentlessly politicizes every policy issue even if its THEIR policy they must demonize (e.g., individual mandate). There is nothing to indicate this is about to change. Huntsman cannot win this party's nomination unless he does what Romney does: put party over country.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on January 16, 2012 8:23 AM:

    Huntsman finally figured it out when S.C. polling showed him trailing Colbert among republican voters.

    However, Huntsman is a leader and the remainder of the republican non-Romneys will be following his lead in endorsing the candidate whom the Corporately Owned Media has already coronated as the next republican president of our country.

    My final say on Mitt Romney and the other republican candidates:

    In a land of midgets, the lone dwarf appears as a very tall man!

  • troglodyte on January 16, 2012 8:24 AM:

    C'Mon, my commenting friends! Huntsman cant diss Romney at this point if he wants to run in 2016. Political reality is that Huntsman wont succeed if he is seen as a pouter. Besides, in the event that Mitt wins in November, how many non-crazy Repubs can Mitt call on to be Sec of State? Huntsman plays the long game, which is why SteveB finds him formidable.

  • Darsan54 on January 16, 2012 8:47 AM:

    Huntsman was the only sane -in the clinical sense- one in the party. I am sorry to see him go.

  • pete moss on January 16, 2012 10:29 AM:

    Of course this was a start of a 2016 or 2020 run for Huntsman. Little known Democrats seem to be able to capture the nomination in one run but repubs typically need to get in line for a cycled or two before they can make it to the nomination. Chimpy Bush was the only one in recent years that jumped to the head of the line - or started in the on deck position because of Poppy Bush.

  • Dex on January 16, 2012 11:24 AM:

    A moderate steps back from his desire to lead the Grand Old Pagans.

  • Greentaxman on January 16, 2012 11:50 AM:

    The Press often "falls in love" with candidates who have no shot at winning. Bruce Babbitt and Paul Tsongus come to mind.

  • MNRD on January 16, 2012 12:58 PM:

    It is a moot point that Huntsman questioned Romney's electability just days ago, because the conservative non-Romneys have all made themselves LESS electable than Romney. Huntsman decided that it was time for he and his Party to cut their losses. Thus, he made the pragmatic decision to drop out and immediately endorse the candidate who has the SMALLEST electability problem. Nothing particularly surprising here.