The Case Against Huntsman '16

By James Fallows

Jon Huntsman's "suspending my campaign" speech just now would have been more in keeping with his pleas for conciliation and American unity if it had not included the moronic  claim that Obama -- who appointed Huntsman and whom he was loyally serving just ten months ago -- was destroying the economy through "class war."

Still, what about the argument that Huntsman, whose positioning was never right for this year's GOP race, overall helped rather than hurt his long-term prospects by introducing himself to the country this way? Especially to the 0.5% of the country's population that lives in New Hampshire? Obviously we're getting way ahead of ourselves here. But last night I guessed that on balance it probably helps him. Joseph Britt of Wisconsin, who has worked for a Republican US Senator, writes in to disagree:

 Here's my problem with the 2016 argument:  Huntsman, were he to run again in four years, wouldn't be building on anything.  It's true that Robert Dole got the nomination in 1996 after running in 1988; he led the Senate Republicans in the meantime.  Romney, and Ron Paul, are running this year after running four years ago; Romney is clearly the spokesman for the money wing of the party, and Paul in his first race built a base of ideology-driven followers.

Huntsman doesn't have any of that going for him -- no responsible position to keep himself in the public eye, and no constituency within the party.  Right now he's the favorite Republican of people least likely to vote Republican.  John McCain, who was better at that role, thought so little of it he became a Bush Republican by the time he ran in 2008.  Why would Huntsman do any better?

The reality is probably even worse than that.  Dole and McCain both lost the election after they were nominated.  Paul won't get nominated; Romney, assuming he wins the nomination, is likely to lose the general election.  The fact is that only a spectacularly unlikely combination of circumstances in 2000 enabled the election of the only Republican President who did not inherit the Presidency directly from Ronald Reagan; in the meantime, the general electorate and the Republican Party have been moving in opposite directions.  

Huntsman might have been able to stake a claim for the 2016 race if he had used this year's campaign to try to change the GOP.  He didn't.  He ran essentially as a Bush Republican who didn't fully sign on to Paul's libertarian ideology, Michele Bachman's conspiracy theories, Rick Santorum's social crusading or whatever Newt Gingrich's last ten big ideas have been.  I don't see what impression Huntsman's campaign this year left on the Republican Party.  Do you?...

I don't think Huntsman's a bad guy.  He's just one of the many Republicans who has never come to grips with the idea that the GOP's problem isn't really the people on the fringe.  It's the record of the people in the mainstream.  This includes the leadership of the last Republican administration and of the Republicans in Congress.

Another reader writes:

I don't know how much I am looking forward to his this-is-totally-for-reals run in 2016, and all the probably more cynical stances he'll take.  I'm hearing echoes of McCain 2008 and Romney 2012 (although it can't be as bad as McCain 2008, can it?).  Its easy to take the high-road if you're setting up for four years down the road.  Its much harder to be noble when you're running a campaign that took four years to establish.

Sorry for the wear-and-tear on the Huntsman family, and a happy recovery to them. He will be a trouper for the party and for its presumptive nominee now, as he has shown he could do before, which is fine and part of politics. Here is one man's hope that he go easy on the "class war" line and heavier on optimistic "better, stronger" America themes. But mainly, he and his team  all deserve a little time off.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/01/the-case-against-huntsman-16/251458/