Jon Huntsman's withdrawal from the race for the Republican presidential nomination doesn't prove the maxim that nice guys finish last, but it's close. Huntsman was the candidate with the ideas that best appealed to pragmatists, the Republican who argued most aggressively for bipartisan solutions, the adult in the room.
And he is a genuinely nice guy. He took some negative shots at his opponents in the campaign, but he generally kept his side of the conversation on a high plane.
Unfortunately, he was not able to connect with enough voters in the early primary states to attract the funding he needed to be genuinely competitive. When comedian Stephen Colbert joked this week that he drove Huntsman from the race by announcing that he, Colbert, would form an exploratory committee, there was a basis in reality. In one poll, Colbert captured 5 percent of the voters in South Carolina to Huntsman's 4 percent.
Even in New Hampshire, where Huntsman campaigned relentlessly for weeks, he was able to grab only 17 percent of the vote in the Granite State's primary. That third-place finish last week spelled the end of his campaign.
When Huntsman pulled the plug Monday, some people were surprised that he didn't wait until after the vote this coming Saturday in South Carolina. But the candidate was right that there was no point in delaying the inevitable, and he did the magnanimous thing by throwing his support to Mitt Romney, the other candidate who is as close to being a moderate conservative as there is in the GOP race.
No doubt Romney will be the beneficiary of Huntsman's departure from the field. There's really nowhere else for political realists in the GOP to turn. Certainly not to the despicable and erratic Newt Gingrich, the religious rightist Rick Santorum or the libertarian, let's-not-have-any-regulations Ron Paul.
Huntsman is correct that, from his party's point of view, it is pointless for candidates to continue bloodying each other in an increasingly nasty race when Romney is the clear front-runner and likely nominee.
While losing is never any fun, Huntsman can take consolation that he filled a policy void with a real-world platform. Yes, it was fiscally very conservative, particularly on tax policy, but it was not just rightist ideology. Maybe that's why he was always popular with policy wonks and newspaper editorial boards.
Unfortunately, he was not able to work the same magic with voters. Next time around, he needs to consult his daughters.
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