As you can tell from the previous posts here, not too many people are mourning the departure of Jon Huntsman from the Republican presidential race. The unfortunate thing was that Huntsman did have a lot to offer in terms of policy: he had some smart things to say about “too big to fail” and the Washington bailout mentality; he was surprisingly bold on entitlement reform; he had actually accomplished more for pro-lifers and gun owners than some of his ostensibly more conservative rivals; he started to sketch out a needed challenge to the Republican consensus on foreign policy and civil liberties that was more nuanced than Ron Paul’s (even if Huntsman didn’t always follow this challenge to its logical conclusions).
All this got lost in the shuffle of Vogue, tweets that seemed to mock the Republican base, the Huntsman daughters, generally listless debate performances, and seemingly endless comments made in Mandarin. They didn’t seem to understand that serving as ambassador to China was a less compelling “country first” storyline than John McCain’s war record or that the president for whom Huntsman was ambassador — one Barack Obama — raised the bar for Huntsman in proving his conservative credentials.
How much of this was an accident and how much was deliberate strategy I don’t know. It was clearly a little of both. The real strategy appeared to be winning New Hampshire McCain-style at the same time someone who couldn’t win the nomination bloodied Mitt Romney in Iowa. Huntsman seemed to enter the race as John Anderson, then tried to appeal to conservative policy wonks as Phil Gramm, only to end up Lamar Alexander: a candidate with a fairly conservative platform whose votes came mostly from moderates and who couldn’t shake the moderate-to-liberal label.
UPDATE: I have a longer column on this in the Guardian.
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