Huntsman girls: More memorable than the candidate? [The conversation]
Jon Huntsman's withdrawal from the Republican presidential race Monday didn't come as much of a surprise. In fact, a good amount of Monday's chatter has to do with Huntsman's daughters and how it'll be a shame not to have them around anymore. Even Rick Perry chimed in about the Huntsman girls. Of course, there are opinionators discussing why Huntsman's candidacy failed to take off, and why he'd suffer the same fate again 2016. Here's a sampling of the commentary.
Huntsman was too mild-mannered…
Temperamentally, Huntsman remained mild-mannered and rather manicured. He seemed to want to run as the Reasonable Candidate. The nice guy. Someone who could reach across the aisle with an open hand and not a dagger. The fellow who didn't reject what scientists said about global warming. He didn't talk about revolution, he talked about reform -- tax reform, education reform. No more war in Afghanistan, no more nation-building abroad. He talked about the "trust deficit." It was an easy-drinking agenda, a light beer instead of the fire water you often get served on the campaign trail.
And it would have been fine, probably, if he was running for president of Friends of the National Zoo.
He wasn't Republican enough
Huntsman offered a critique of what has gone wrong in the modern Republican party: too anti-science, too socially conservative, too militarily interventionist, too hostile to expertise.
He did not however offer a unique selling proposition for his own candidacy. Even supposing a Republican primary voter agreed with every point in Huntsman's critique (and surprisingly many do agree) -- what then? Huntsman's answer to the party's problems was himself: smart, sophisticated, worldly, pragmatic. But every one of those characteristics is shared with Romney. What Huntsman did not offer was a programmatic alternative.
He was "non nutty"
He was a refreshing voice of semi-reason during debates characterized by Mitt Romney simmering with robo-rage, Rick Perry embarrassing himself, Ron Paul going on and on about how if you just let all the animals out of the cages, the zoo will eventually reach a state of peace and prosperity, Herman Cain shouting numbers, Michele Bachmann adding the word "Obama" as a prefix for everything she doesn't like ("Obama traffic jam" "Obama cramps"), Newt Gingrich coming dangerously close to smirking his face skin right off, and Rick Santorum using the word "family" as a code word for "horrifying totalitarian body control." […]"Non nutty" doesn't resonate enough with today's GOP primary voters to keep them interested.
He was condescending
As for his future, it's possible to imagine Huntsman getting some kind of appointment in a putative Romney administration. But he should forget about another presidential run. That's not just because the next generation of political talent in the GOP such as Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio or Chris Christie will eclipse him. Huntsman's performance on the stump and in the debates was so poor as to render him an unlikely prospect for the future. While he committed no absurd gaffe in the manner of Rick Perry, his arch and condescending tone in the debates was more than off-putting. His tendency to comment on the proceedings as if he were in the peanut gallery, to make ill-considered quips quoting songs and, finally, his decision to answer a Romney riposte in Chinese (to show how much smarter he was than his rivals) told us everything we needed to know about his personality.
He didn't leave an intriguing image
I believed from Day 1 that Huntsman was running for 2016, which gave him way more scope to run a relatively honest and dignified campaign than any of the folks who were genuinely running for this year's nomination. And yet, Huntsman just never seemed to attract a following, not even the Tsongas/Anderson/McCain-ish kind of cult that presidential elections so often produce. These are the folks who rally around the guy willing to "speak hard truths" and avoid "politics as usual." The media usually swoons for them too. But not Huntsman. He got a few followers, and a bit of decent press, but that was it. He just wasn't any good at projecting an intriguing image.
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photo: Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., accompanied by his family, announces the suspension of his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination on Jan. 16. Credit: Paul J. Richards /AFP/Getty Images