When it comes to the presidential campaign of former Utah governor (and ambassador to China) Jon Huntsman, the general assumption among pundits is that he’s actually running for the 2016 Republican nomination. After all, if President Obama wins re-election, Huntsman would be a natural fit for a (presumably) chastened Republican Party—a conservative governor with a moderate temperament and solid bipartisan credentials.
The problem with this view, as Ross Douthat points out, is that it ignores the likely landscape of a 2016 Republican presidential field:
If Barack Obama is re-elected and the Republican nomination is up for grabs in 2016, there will be a long list of heavyweights ready and rested and ready to compete for the prize— Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, Bob McDonnell, and probably other up-and-comers as well. […] All of them will be able out-raise, out-organize and out-buzz a guy who couldn’t rise to the top of the weakest presidential primary field in my lifetime. Any Huntsman 2016 campaign would be an asterisk, at best, to what would probably be a genuine intra-party slugfest.
This, exactly. Thanks to their gains in 2009 and 2010, Republicans have a deep bench of candidates to run in 2016. Huntsman might look good when placed against Mitt Romney or Rick Perry, but it’s hard to see how he’s a better standard-bearer than, as Douthat mentions, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell or Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Put another way, this is one of those times when it’s best to take a candidate’s words at face value; Jon Huntsman is running for the nomination now because he thinks he can win. And while it might seem quixotic to those of us watching, Huntsman wouldn’t be the first politician who ran for a party nomination despite the low odds of success.