Jon Huntsman: Ticket to nowhere

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman 15 January 2012 Jon Huntsman has polled at about 1% nationally despite attracting about 17% of the new Hampshire vote

Jon Huntsman's withdrawal from the race is another mini-boost for Mitt Romney.

Huntsman's fate was sealed when he came third in New Hampshire. He said it was "a ticket to ride". But the bus has run out of fuel and puttered to a halt.

As Politico points out, every vote Huntsman took in South Carolina would have been a vote less for Romney. But he wouldn't have taken many anyway.

While his political demise won't have much impact on the Republican race, it tells you a lot about the state of American politics.

About three years ago when I was pursuing my own nomination battle - for this job - I spent a lot of time thinking about who the Republican challenger would be. Jon Huntsman was top of my list.

Peering into American tea leaves was the main job of a diplomat friend. Huntsman topped her list too.

I am sure President Barack Obama made Huntsman ambassador to China on his merit. But it must have crossed his mind that it would also remove a serious rival (no-one thought he would quit and come back).

So what happened since those early days of the Obama administration, to turn a front-runner into a no-hoper?

Three words: the Tea Party.

They may be pretty quiet these days, but that is not because they have lost and gone away. It is because they have won.

Republican activists as a whole now accept that their party lost its way and stopped being truly conservative. They believe that their country is in danger and only a radical reduction in the size of government, and so spending and taxation, can save it.

Many want a fire-breathing commander-in-chief who promotes the idea that America is an exceptional force for good in the world and that intervention is nearly always positive.

The former Utah governor is pretty conservative by most standards, but he is too civil to strike a chord, too thoughtful to adopt what he clearly regards as simplistic solutions.

Talking to people, I have found he still has a huge amount of support - among Democrats.

He alienated the base further, suggesting that the Republican party couldn't "run against science" in regards to climate change and evolution.

Despite his fluency in Mandarin, his obvious intelligence and his bubbly secret weapon - his daughters who tweeted as Jon2012girls - he campaigned from the centre ground in a race where all the action is on the right.

He had a ticket to ride in an America where Republicans would rather travel by car, in a different direction.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Mark, your contempt for libertarians and conservatives is very plain. Maybe you should tone it down a little. That way at least the readers who are not that familiar with you might think you even-handed. It's a long shot, but it might help disguise your fairly obvious campaigning for President Obama a little.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Alas, Mr. Mardell is correct. The "tea party" has driven away any intelligent, considerate candidate in their desire for a nationalistic theocracy. We will all be in desperate trouble if any of the current GOP candidates win.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    John who? So does that leave Romney as the only choice for smart Republicans & the Tea Party are surely not going to throw their hands up & say "oh well at least we tried" I dont think so. Of course it is not he size of government they want to shrink but it is welfare and benefits. Your could reduce government by not fighting so many wars withdrawing troops from abroad & downsizing the military

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    My first comment was "referred for further consideration." If it doesn't get through the BBC political opinion filter, the gist of what I said (very mannerly) was that the article, like many of Mark's, seems very anti-republican/pro Democrat. My opinion is that there is an obvious bias here. I recall the "are all republicans crazy?" piece. Come on...

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I'm a life-long Democrat but am disappointed enough in Obama and impressed enough by Huntsman that, had he secured the nomination, I may have voted Republican for the first time. That such an intelligent and experienced man stood no chance is a sad commentary on the GOP. Switch sides, Jon!


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