Jon Huntsman To Drop Out Of Presidential Race

Not surprisingly, it's the end of Huntsmania

It appears that the somewhat quixotic Presidential campaign of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. will come to an end tomorrow:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Jon M. Huntsman Jr. informed his advisers on Sunday that he intends to drop out of the Republican presidential race, ending his candidacy a week before he had hoped to revive his campaign in the South Carolina primary.

Mr. Huntsman, who had struggled to live up to the soaring expectations of his candidacy, made plans to make an announcement as early as Monday. He had been set to participate in an evening debate in Myrtle Beach.

Matt David, campaign manager to Mr. Huntsman, confirmed the decision in an interview Sunday evening. “The governor and his family, at this point in the race, decided it was time for Republicans to rally around a candidate who could beat Barack Obama and turn around the economy,” Mr. David said. “That candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.”

A third-place finish in the New Hampshire primary last week failed to jump start his flagging candidacy, aides said, and his campaign limped into South Carolina with little money. Mr. Huntsman has spent days pondering his future in the race, but aides said that he concluded he was unlikely to topple Mitt Romney or match the momentum of his Republican rivals in the conservative Southern primary.

The decision from Mr. Huntsman came on the same day that he received the endorsement from The State, the newspaper in the capital of Columbia. He had campaigned in South Carolina over the weekend, not giving any indication that the end was near

The State’s editorial was particularly positive, and emphasized many of the reasons why some people had started to express interest in Huntsman’s candidacy, albeit far too late to make any difference:

Mr. Huntsman is a true conservative, with a record and platform of bold economic reform straight out of the free-market bible, but he’s a realist, whose goal is likewise to get things done. Under his leadership, Utah led the nation in job creation, and the Pew Center on the States ranked it the best-managed state in the nation.

He also is head and shoulders above the field on foreign policy. He served as President George H.W. Bush’s U.S. ambassador to Singapore and President George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative and U.S. trade ambassador, and the next entry on that resume is even more impressive: He was a popular and successful governor in an extremely conservative state, well positioned to become a leading 2012 presidential contender, when Mr. Obama asked him to serve in arguably our nation’s most important diplomatic post, U.S. ambassador to China. It could be political suicide, but he didn’t hesitate. As he told our editorial board: “When the president asks you to serve, you serve.”

We don’t agree with all of Mr. Huntsman’s positions; for but one example, he championed one of the nation’s biggest private-school voucher programs. And with George Will calling him the most conservative candidate and The Wall Street Journal editorial page endorsing his tax plan, independent voters might find less to like about his positions than, say, Mr. Romney’s or Newt Gingrich’s.

What makes him attractive are the essential values that drive his candidacy: honor and old-fashioned decency and pragmatism. As he made clear Wednesday to a room packed full of USC students on the first stop of his “Country First” tour, his goal is to rebuild trust in government, and that means abandoning the invective and reestablishing the political center.

Don’t expect him to engage in meaningless hyperbole or apologize for his occasional moderate positions. As he explained recently: “We have to draw from ideas that are doable and not so outlandishly stupid that they create a lot of political infighting and finger-pointing and never, ever in a thousand years are going to get done.” And don’t expect him to spout ridiculous superlatives about the existential threat the incumbent poses to our nation; President Obama simply has failed to lead or has led in the wrong direction, he argues.

Although my initial preference in the Republican race was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, I don’t think I’ve exactly made secret my positive opinions about Governor Huntsman as I’ve gotten to know more about him. As I’ve noted in other posts. I think it’s likely true that his campaign made a mistake in failing to adequately reach out to conservative pundits who may have been sympathetic to him. At the same time, of course, it’s fairly clear that many conservatives rejected Huntsman merely because he accepted an Ambassadorial position under a Democratic President, something that Republicans had done routinely in the days of Wendell Wilkie and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., and which displayed a spirit of bipartisanship in foreign policy that is apparently now grounds for dismissal by the powers-that-be in the conservative movement.

Governor Huntsman also made headlines by criticizing that segment of conservatism that chose to politicize issues like evolution and climate change by saying that he believed in science, statements which many on the right criticize him for even now as a deliberate effort to antagonize the Republican base. On the first issue, I don’t see how accepting established science as reality is controversial, and I wonder how anyone can take seriously anyone who rejects something that is a fundamental building block of biology, geology, anthropology, and archeology. In any case, however, the idea that science is a matter of political debate instead of well, scientific inquiry, is completely nonsensical. Anyone running for President who thinks myth should be taught as science deserves strict scrutiny to say the least. As for the climate change issue, well, anyone who can’t acknowledge that the climate is changing and that humans play at least some role in that seems to me to be ignoring reality. What the proper response to that phenomenon might be, of course is a completely different question. In either case, though, denying scientific truth is just plain stupid.

Huntsman will apparently endorse Mitt Romney tomorrow. A not unexpected and politically smart move on his part.  If Romney wins, it may well lead to a prestigious diplomatic post, which he seems well suited for. Whatever the future holds, though, I would hope that this isn’t the end of Jon Huntsman’s service to his country because he strikes me as a guy who has a lot to offer.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. But, but: he’s got a ticket to ride!

  2. Dazedandconfused says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    He didn’t say where.

  3. toomuchheatinthekitchen says:

    Out campaigning and collecting donations when you know your going to quit, shows lack of character. Notice how Ron Paul never quit when everyone else did in 2008, and he’ll never quit this time either… Show’s great character. He won’t let his supporters down.

  4. @Steven L. Taylor: Dang it, now that song’s in my head. JH should have stuck with Kurt Cobain.

  5. Liberal Capitalist says:

    … And Obama is one step closer to winning.

    Huntsman was the ONLY candidate that would have taken the middle.

  6. “Journalism largely consists in saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.” — G. K. Chesterton

  7. Hey Norm says:

    The Republican field just got that much less credible.

  8. John425 says:

    Huntsmania? WTF? How about Huntsfizzle? Barely a blip on the political radar screens.