Running to Lose

Jamelle Bouie

Jon Huntsman speaks during a Q&A session at the University of South Carolina.

COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA—At the University of South Carolina yesterday, Jon Huntsman was explaining his position on health care. Huntsman doesn’t believe that there should be an individual mandate in health care, he explained, but he does think that hospitals should be required to provide emergency care. When pressed on the problem of moral hazard and cost—i.e., Won’t this just make health care more expensive?—he demurred. Likewise, when asked about his support for the Ryan plan by a self-described independent, he waved away the concern with a bland statement about cutting the debt.

In other words, this was a classic Huntsman performance, in which his calm demeanor and pleasant voice mask a conservatism that goes deeper than what we’ve seen from most of the other Republican candidates.

It should be said that the attendees were enthusiastic about the governor, and quite a few were longtime supporters. “I’ve been a supporter since before he started his campaign,” said William Hogan, a student at USC. “Out of everyone, he has the most experience, and I think he’s just more open and honest than the other candidates.”

Likewise, for Jonathan (he declined to give his last name), a sophomore, Huntsman is the only reason to ever vote Republican. “Honestly, I wouldn’t vote for Newt Gingrich, I wouldn’t vote for Rick Perry, and if she were still in, I wouldn’t vote for Michele Bachmann,” Jonathan said. When I asked him about Mitt Romney, he echoed his previous comment. “There’s just something about Mitt Romney that I don’t really trust,” he said.

As for Huntsman himself, he says he’s in it to win it. But judging from the actual substance of his comments on his campaign plan, you get the sense that he knows he’s out for the count. “Exceeding market expectations” is what he said when asked about what would count as a victory. I’m not sure if that means anything other than, “We just hope we don’t lose too badly.”