On Monday Jon Huntsman announced he was leaving the GOP race. To many moderates and fiscal conservatives Huntsman’s candidacy initially showed great promise. After all, the ex-Utah Governor had resoundingly won two elections, instituted a flat tax in his state, helped reform higher education, allowed for private insurance to cover a majority of pre-college students, lured thousands of new jobs to the state and served as Ambassador to China for a year and a half.
But Huntsman also held views that made him an outsider in GOP political circles. For a Mormon Republican to get elected in Utah is not hard. Likewise it is not hard to institute sweeping reform with the reddest legislature in the country by percentage of seats held. But Huntsman did have to fight hard to get legalize same-sex unions in Utah. Ditto for his immigration plan which passed a year after he left office to become Ambassador to China (and is currently being sued by the Obama administration). Those two actions put him outside where the GOP stood ideologically.
Perhaps Huntsman’s worst stance was initially advocating support for Obamacare (before really knowing what was in it) before supporting repeal. But even as he supported repeal of the law he was wishy-washy on how it should be done. Huntsman also advocated and worked for a regional cap-and-trade system which never made it out of the preliminary stages in the West. When Democrats pushed Cap and Trade in 2009-10 Huntsman came out in support of the law after he had resigned his ambassadorial position.
Despite Huntsman’s successes as Governor his stances on national issues put him on an outside track to win a national race. Republicans extremely fed up with the president’s policies were not willing to vote for a candidate who initially liked them before being against them (thank you John Kerry).
Two other factors led to Huntsman never catching fire in the race. Huntsman’s tone and demeanor were those of a safe, moderate Utah governor. He rarely got excited, never spoke with passion and on the GOP stump spoke more as an independent then Republican candidate. Huntsman also was never afraid to call out the GOP on a number of issues. Wishing for a “sane” Republican party to run in is not how you endear yourself to Tea Partiers or conservative Republicans. Huntsman’s tone and demeanor (sometimes derogatory to the GOP) contrasted with a GOP electorate angry with a liberal president and Congress. The emergence of the Tea Party and its success with the GOP in 2010 also urged many GOP presidential candidates to move to the right. Huntsman did not budge.
Huntsman’s electoral strategy was flawed. Huntsman’s strategists made the fatal assumption that his moderate brand of conservatism would not play well in socially conservative Iowa. Keep in mind he had pushed civil unions in Utah. Huntsman did not compete in Iowa and instead staked his entire campaign on New Hampshire hoping that young, socially liberal voters and older fiscal conservatives would back him. Instead, Romney’s deep well of support in the state kept Huntsman from gaining much traction. Thus instead of competing in Iowa even to win a few moderate voters (it is conceivable that if Huntsman had he could have taken enough votes away from Romney to give Santorum a win in IA) he doubled down in New Hampshire. The result was minimal.
Huntsman finished third in New Hampshire behind Paul and Romney. Though surging late Huntsman did not come close to either of the top two finishers. Without a big win in a moderate state to stand on and little cash left Huntsman campaign was basically dead. Apparently they realized this.
Huntsman’s hope to win the GOP nomination rested on several flawed processes. He thought he could stand on his record as Governor of Utah and like Romney brush over his flirtation with leftist ideas nationally. Nevermind Romney has been appealing to the right for two years now. Huntsman’s tone and demeanor spoke of a man running for the nomination of the “Party of Eisenhower,” in other words a party of largely suburban and upper middle class voters more moderate and independent then conservative). Instead, Huntsman seemed to ignore the rise of the Tea Party and the GOP continuing becoming ever more the “Party of Reagan,” in its demographic composition. Lastly, Huntsman’s electoral strategy was fatally flawed. Yes, his support of civil unions would not have played well in Iowa but to some voters in the state that would have not mattered. If he had even tried to compete in the state he might have garnered more media attention and donors. Instead, all his chips were laid in New Hampshire and he fell flat.
Jon Huntsman banked his campaign on a variety of assumptions, all flawed, and all failed. This is what happened to John Huntsman.