A defeated candidate agrees with many critics about a crucial moment when he made the wrong choice.
(Please see update below.) Through the past year's evolution of the Huntsman 2012 campaign, my own reactions went through an altered version of the famous Kübler-Ross cycle. I started with denial: how could a serving member of the Obama Administration possibly run for the nomination of the Tea Party-era GOP? I lurched into admiration (also here, here, and here). I ended with acceptance/regret. And along the way I had the stage of anger/grief.
That stage came last August, because of Huntsman's on-the-fly decision to "raise his hand" and join all the other Republicans in promising to reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 in favor of budget cuts over tax increases. In case you've forgotten, here it is:
That moment was horrible. Right after the debate, my friend Hendrik Hertzberg* observed that Huntsman must have regretted his split-second choice: "This is pure speculation, of course, but I'm fairly sure that Huntsman was riven with regret in the aftermath of his humiliating surrender to fear." At the time and later, other people said similar things: at a critical point of either standing up to, or joining in with, Tea Party anti-tax absolutism, Huntsman had unfortunately signed on.
Thus it is fascinating to see Huntsman singling out that choice as one he wishes he had made differently, according to Zeke Miller's account in BuzzFeed:
Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: "if you can only do certain things over again in life."
"What went through my head was if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes...then I'm going to have to do a lot of explaining," he explained. "What was going through my mind was 'don't I just want to get through this?'"
That decision, Huntsman said, "has caused me a lot of heartburn."
At the moment there is no point in "what-if"ism about that moment, because so many other things were working against Huntsman in this year's field. And after we see how this year's presidential race turns out, we'll have lots of time to consider whether the post-2012 GOP is likely to morph in a direction more favorable to Huntsman or whether he has permanently estranged himself from it. For now, it's a further credit to Huntsman's "call me crazy" sanity that he recognizes and admits what went wrong that day.
Update A reader adds:
And what will be even more interesting is when Romney announces that he also regrets putting his hand up as he continues his march to the middle.
* Routine disclosure: Rick Hertzberg was my colleague in the White House speechwriting mill during the first two years of the Carter administration and my successor as its director in the two years after that. Both before and after his time in politics he has of course been with the New Yorker.