Visual source: Newseum
Republican John Huntsman is dropping out of the race, with his campaign explaining that "it was time for Republicans to rally around a candidate who could beat Barack Obama." In dropping out, Huntsman is endorsing Mitt Romney, the candidate he called "completely unelectable".
Ah, politics. Onto the punditry.
TIME's Alex Altman explains the "why":
After failing to break through in the Granite State, Huntsman’s days in the race were numbered. Though he treated the disappointing result as a triumph — confetti showered the stage at his New Hampshire send-off Tuesday night — and journeyed south vowing to fight on, Huntsman’s campaign was running on fumes, bereft of the money and momentum required to run ads or contest a protracted primary fight. While his exit was anticipated, the timing was a surprise. Earlier Sunday, he earned the endorsement of South Carolina’s The State newspaper. [...]
Whether Romney’s camp will embrace the endorsement is another matter. After pledging to make comity a hallmark of his campaign, Huntsman sharpened his tone toward the Republican front-runner as his own fortunes sputtered. In recent weeks, he bitterly hammered Romney for being a political “chameleon” who lacked core convictions and “likes firing people.”
The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin sums it all up in one sentence:
Jon Huntsman’s campaign was never going to work.
More from Rubin:
[H]his campaign wasn’t based on any natural constituency or rationale. The campaign was, of course, a scheme cooked up by political consultant John Weaver, who managed to flatter Huntsman into running and to siphon off millions from Huntsman’s father to underwrite the effort. But Andy Ferguson had Hunstman pegged in a piece in the Weekly Standard when he described his kick-off event as more akin to a parody than a real campaign announcement.
While serving as President Obama’s ambassador to China, Huntsman missed the entire Tea Party movement, not to mention the 2010 election. If it was the GOP presidential nomination he sought, it was of a GOP in some parallel universe created by the press in which the darn Tea Party never arose, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was still speaker of the House and Republicans yearned for an isolationist foreign policy even to the left of President Obama’s.
The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez looks at what may be in Huntsman's future:
By backing Romney as he bows out — and on the verge of what could be the GOP front-runner’s third early-state win in a row — Huntsman will strike a new tone of cooperation in his relationship with his onetime competitor.
In doing so, he will keep himself relevant, keep the door open to stumping for Romney on the trail (and up his own name ID in the process) — and leave open the possibility of serving in a potential Romney administration. (Whether that’s a likely scenario is another story.)
Nate Silver points out that Huntsman's exit will help Romney, if only a little bit:
Because Mr. Huntsman had relatively little support in South Carolina — between 1 and 6 percent of the vote in recent surveys — the net effect of this might be fairly negligible in the immediate term, with Mr. Romney gaining perhaps a percentage point in the state relative to more conservative candidates like Newt Gingrich.
Still, and particularly with Mr. Huntsman primed to endorse him, this removes another obstacle from Mr. Romney’s path to the nomination. [...] [T]he G.O.P. has no active candidates but Mr. Romney, the idiosyncratic Mr. Paul, and a set of conservatives with poor favorability ratings who might have middling appeal to independent voters. This dynamic has benefited Mr. Romney throughout the nomination race and Republican voters have one fewer alternative now.
Howard Kurtz on why Huntsman never had a chance:
I’ve rarely seen a politician get less traction than Jon Huntsman.
He was close to invisible in this presidential race, except for all the media fawning. [...] Huntsman was a perfectly fine governor of Utah—quite conservative, in fact—but by the standards of today’s Republican Party, he was practically a card-carrying lefty. He never fit in with the mood of primary voters. He was unwilling to pander on climate change and other hot-button issues.
There was a patrician air around Huntsman—like Romney, the son of a rich and successful father—and he wasn’t a particularly dynamic candidate. He was charisma-challenged. He tended to fade in debates. He had no coherent message, other than that he wasn’t a far-right crazy. If he uttered a single memorable line in the past year, it escapes my memory. [...]
In another era, Jon Huntsman might have been a plausible White House contender. But not in the Republican Party of 2012.