Politics

01.16.12

Jon Huntsman’s Irrelevant Exit From the Republican Race

The former Utah governor’s candidacy—based on a delusion—came to its inevitable end. Michelle Goldberg on why it doesn’t make any difference that Huntsman’s quitting the race.

Jon Huntsman’s candidacy was based on a delusion. He staked his aspirations on the misbegotten hope that some significant segment of the GOP base craved a civil, responsible, empirically grounded conservatism. “To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” he tweeted in August. “Call me crazy.” Crazy is a pretty good word for the belief that modern Republicans would be open to such a sentiment.

And so on Monday morning, he surrendered to the inevitable and ended his quixotic presidential campaign. Standing before five American flags under sickly fluorescent light in an out-of-the-way meeting room at the Myrtle Beach Sheraton, his beautiful wife and daughters behind him and his billionaire father looking on, he tried to maintain the dignified, above-it-all posture that has served him so poorly these past few months. Rather than seeking to advance the common goal of restoring “bold and principled leadership,” he said, “this race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people.” As if that, rather than abysmal poll numbers and an inability to raise money, is why he’s stepping aside.

The former Utah governor ended his campaign trying to maintain the dignified, above-it-all posture that has served him so poorly these past few months.

As expected, Huntsman endorsed Mitt Romney. Though he recently called Romney “completely unelectable,” at his press conference he argued that his onetime rival is the only candidate who can win the general election. “It is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama,” he said. “Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.”

That was the entirety of his praise for the man he previously called a “perfectly lubricated weathervane.” As journalists shouted questions at him, he hugged his wife and then ushered his family offstage. Even if the endorsement were more enthusiastic, it wouldn’t have meant much, because the vast majority of Huntsman supporters are likely to vote for Romney anyway. He was irrelevant in the race, and he’s irrelevant out of it.