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The Huntsman Question

8:04 AM, Jan 16, 2012 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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At the end of the New York Times blog post that first reported Jon Huntsman would be dropping out of the presidential race today, there's an interesting bit of analysis explaining why the former governor of Utah never caught fire within the Republican field:

Mr. Huntsman’s bid ended with a fizzle that was striking considering it’s start. He was feted with glossy magazine profiles and high marks from pundits who predicted he would be a formidable general election opponent to President Obama, his old boss.

But his moderate positions and understated style never seemed right in an angry year of disaffection. He struggled for poll ratings and money, and was not expected to make a great showing in his weeks campaign financial filings.

An "angry year of disaffection"? Perhaps in the minds of Times reporters. When I interviewed him in December, Huntsman offered his own theory:

Huntsman says Republicans have balked at the fact that Obama appointed him ambassador to China. “I was raised, I guess, in a different era, where you serve your country first,” Huntsman tells me. “[I understand] now full well that there were many who, when they saw me in the race, they glossed over me. They said, ‘He crossed a partisan line, that’s unacceptable. And he served in China, and that’s totally unacceptable.’ I mean, come on, please.”

The best explanation, however, may be found in Andrew Ferguson's profile of the soon-to-be-erstwhile candidate:

In 2010 Republicans were swept back to power without moving a muscle, ideologically, and the issues that Huntsman wanted to place at the top of the party’s agenda, education and the environment, have fallen low on the list of voters’ concerns, as they always will when times are rough. Matt Bai in the New York Times compared Huntsman the 2011 presidential candidate to a cave man transplanted from his own time to ours. From early 2009 to 2011 is hardly a geological epoch, but it’s true—to switch metaphors—that as 2012 approaches the rethinking man’s candidate looks like last year’s model.

Huntsman seems to have missed something big in the landslides of 2010. The reason for his Rip Van Winkle aura, to use still another metaphor, is that Huntsman spent most of the Obama administration out of the country. Just as Huntsman was strapping on his rethinking cap, in the spring of 2009, President Obama appointed him ambassador to China, an offer he accepted without failing to note that this act of bipartisanship was just the kind of thing the American people hungered for from their leaders. He hand wrote a polite thank you note to President Obama, calling him a “remarkable leader”—which is not the kind of thing the Republican people hunger for from their presidential candidates. 

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