Jon Huntsman speaks during a Q&A session at the University of South Carolina.
MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA—By the time Jon Huntsman tried to sell himself as a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, it was too late—he had already defined himself as a moderate Republican, and in the process alienated conservative voters. Indeed, you could describe Huntsman’s campaign as an exercise in attacking the voters he needed to win the nomination. John Weaver, his chief strategist, was known for his attacks on the right wing of the Republican Party, and Huntsman himself was willing to disparage conservative voters.
When, in a tweet last summer, Huntsman said, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy,” he explicitly disagreed with conservatives in a way that appealed to liberal and moderate disdain for the right. Likewise, as Byron York described for the Washington Examiner, Huntsman was willing to question his own party's sanity:
The next day, after a campaign appearance at a coffee shop in Hampstead, New Hampshire, I asked him to elaborate. “We are sane when we stand up and we talk about real solutions for the American people,” Huntsman said. “We are insane when we stand up and light our hair on fire, when we engage in political theatrics and soundbites that just don’t make any sense.”
This is a lot of things, but it isn’t a strategy for winning the Republican nomination for president. Moreover, this puts to rest the idea that Huntsman is really running for 2016. It doesn’t make sense to insult your party’s voters—and further alienate conservatives—if you plan to win them over in the future.
With all of that in mind, it’s interesting to note that, as his last act in the race, Huntsman endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who has had his own troubles with the Republican base. “Today, I am suspending my campaign for the presidency. I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Governor Mitt Romney,” Huntsman said.
For the last six months, Huntsman has done nothing but disparage Romney with attacks on his integrity and his conservative bona fides. More important, there’s no reason to think that he’s changed his mind; in all likelihood, Huntsman still sees Romney as a fraud.
In other words, by endorsing Romney, Huntsman has expressed one final bit of contempt for the Republican base. His voters will move into Romney’s corner, giving the former Massachusetts governor a comfortable lead over his competitors in South Carolina. And if Romney wins in South Carolina, the nomination race is effectively over, saddling the conservative movement—and the Tea Party in particular—with a nominee who represents everything they oppose among mainstream Republicans.