Jon Huntsman’s third-place finish in New Hampshire didn’t give him a “ticket to ride” very far. A slew of reports last night said Huntsman will drop out of the GOP race this morning and endorse the man he spent weeks in New Hampshire trying to tear down, Mitt Romney.
It wasn’t surprising that Huntsman’s chances were nil after he won just one in six voters in the state that received almost all his attention, particularly given that the vast majority of his voters in New Hampshire don’t consider themselves Republicans. And students of political campaigns will long marvel that even a man who planned to run as a moderate in his party’s primary thought he could win the nomination after displaying indifference and sometimes hostility toward the party’s base.
Given his record as governor of Utah and his economic proposals, Huntsman could have chosen to run to Romney’s right. He most likely would have done better. Now, it’s hard to believe his future as a Republican at the national level is terribly bright. If you think Romney has had a hard time convincing voters he’s a conservative after running as a liberal-to-moderate in Massachusetts in 1994 and 2002, imagine how much harder it would be for Huntsman to do the same when he was running as a liberal-to-moderate in a Republican presidential primary in 2012.
Besides running along the wrong flank of the party, Huntsman never made the case for himself as an indispensable leader. Like Tim Pawlenty before him, Huntsman came off as compelling to a compellingly small number of voters. Again, Huntsman’s economic proposals were solid — but there was nothing about them that couldn’t be adopted by Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or any other candidate who chose to do so. Heck, Huntsman pretty much adopted the tax plan of Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson anyway.
I doubt this development has much of an effect on the race. There aren’t many “Huntsman voters” for the other candidates to collect, although I suspect the majority of them will in fact go to Romney. One definite impact: The five remaining candidates will each have a little more face time during tonight’s debate. Will any of them gain an advantage from that?
In the next few days, you will see much hand-wringing in the press — not to mention among the more liberal denizens of this blog — to the effect that Huntsman’s failure signals an ideological hard-headedness within the Republican Party. Please. This is the party that nominated John McCain in 2008 and is, in all likelihood, about to nominate Mitt Romney in 2012. It is not making a hard-right turn. Jon Huntsman’s presidential bid didn’t fail because of the GOP; it failed because of Jon Huntsman.
– By Kyle Wingfield