Former Utah Governor and prog-rock keyboardist Jon Huntsman will drop out of the GOP primary race on Monday, various media outlets are reporting this evening.
According to The New York Times, Huntsman will endorse Mitt Romney later in the week. An inspired choice, considering that Huntsman accused Romney of making himself "completely unelectable," and called him a "perfectly lubricated weather vane" and "panderer-in-chief."
Business Insider's Michael Brendan Dougherty, an early chronicler of the Huntsman campaign, has a good post mortem:
Huntsman should have been a contender.
He was an extremely popular two-term governor, who won re-election with almost 80 percent of the vote. He could check off every position on a default Republican's wishlist. He signed more pro-life legislation than his competitors. He expanded gun-rights. He lowered taxes in his state historically.
And as his campaign was anxious to remind everyone: he had lots of foreign policy experience. He served as Trade Representative, and three times as Ambassador.
But Huntsman and the media defined his candidacy as that of a moderate. And at times, his tweeting seemed to antagonize the Republican base rather than rally it. Rather than coming out of his post as America's ambassador to China under Obama as a whistleblower, he promised a "civil" campaign.
Reason's own Brian Doherty measured Paul and Huntsman earlier this month and found the latter wanting:
Why do I think Huntsman can't pull Paul's people? (Huntsman won't even be on the ballot in Virginia or Arizona.) Paul, unlike Huntsman, has a coherent, wide-ranging, principled worldview about politics, a worldview expressed and acted on in a variety of existing institutions, books, news and commentary sites: Paul has a political movement. To paraphrase something Thomas Woods, author of the New York Times best-seller Meltdown promoting the Paulite view of Federal Reserve responsibility for the economic crisis, said Saturday night at a mini-Paul rally in a Manchester pool hall: no one says that discovering Jon Huntsman changed their whole view of the world and sent them on a life-changing intellectual odyssey through a coherent and thrilling world of books and ideas. (Woods said it about Romney. It applies equally to Huntsman, considered against Paul.) Even Huntsman's supposed anti-interventionism is more confused and weak than Paul's.
What Paul has that Huntsman does not have is, well, libertarianism. That's something, believe it or not libertarians punchdrunk from decades of being a hated tiny minority, that now has great electoral power. Enough electoral power yet to win the GOP nomination, or even caucuses or primaries? Doesn't seem like it yet, but I've learned over the past five years to not underestimate the strange electoral power of Ron Paul.
In November, Steve Chapman asked, "Why not Huntsman?"
His centrism is mostly a matter of temperament. His record in office stands up well by conservative standards. He pushed through big cuts in income and sales taxes. He cut state employees' retirement benefits.
In the libertarian Cato Institute's 2008 fiscal ranking of the nation's governors, he came in fifth—tied with Rick Perry. He also can argue that he knows how to foster a sound economy. During his time as governor, by one measure, Utah ranked first in the country in job creation, while Romney's Massachusetts ranked 47th.
He hasn't had to spend a lot of time fighting off major parts of his record. The phrase he uses to describe Romney—a "perfectly lubricated weather vane"—doesn't apply to Huntsman.
He did, however, have the gall to say, "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming." He also has parted with GOP dogma on civil unions for gays and granting in-state college tuition to foreign-born children brought here illegally by their parents.
But those are mild deviations compared to, say, Romney's Obama-like health care program, Cain's wild incoherence on abortion or Newt Gingrich's sale of his soul to Freddie Mac.
More offensive to rabid Obama-haters is that Huntsman accepted when the president asked him to be ambassador to China. Never mind that firsthand acquaintance with our biggest creditor and most formidable potential military rival (he even speaks Mandarin) would be an asset in a president. Never mind that his service would appeal to independent voters who distrust fierce partisanship.
Never mind, either, that he has attacked Obama for his policy on Libya, which was "not in our core national security interest," and on Afghanistan, which he regards as "nation-building." Republicans wary of extravagant, open-ended foreign entanglements now have an alternative to Ron Paul.
And who else has had the nerve to say what should be obvious about our most questionable ally? "I'm here to tell you, folks," Huntsman declared at one event, "we can't do a damn thing about Pakistan. Only Pakistan can save Pakistan."