Andrew comments on Huntsman’s withdrawal from the race:
What you see in the rejection of Huntsman is the Republican body rejecting a sanity transplant.
That could be true, but this is hard to disentangle from what Andrew calls Huntsman’s “tone-deaf” campaign. If Huntsman kept obscuring and hiding his relative sanity in his debate performances and interviews, it is hardly the fault of the electorate that they failed to appreciate it. Huntsman approached the race from the beginning as someone at once above it all and dismissive of the party he wanted to lead. He deliberately imitated McCain’s strategy of cultivating the media and wooing non-Republicans and non-conservatives, and just like McCain he came to be viewed with dislike and distrust. Based on what the campaign was trying to achieve, they were successful. They turned one of the most conservative candidates in the race into a McCain-like figure of conservative scorn and mockery, and they did it on purpose.
There are many, many things wrong with the modern GOP, but Republicans’ refusal to embrace a candidate who defined himself by his antipathy to them is a fairly natural and predictable response. Lamenting that Republicans didn’t rally behind Huntsman is comparable to the complaints we heard from more than a few hawkish Republicans when Joe Lieberman was “purged” in the 2006 Senate primary in Connecticut. According to the hawks’ deluded view, Lieberman represented sanity in a Democratic Party gone mad, and Lieberman let everyone know that he shared the hawks’ assessment of most Democratic voters. The rejection of Huntsman is quite similar to the “purge” of Lieberman in that strong partisans and ideological voters refused to reward a candidate who seemed to regard them with contempt.
Consider how many opportunities Huntsman missed. His domestic policy agenda could have been written by Paul Ryan (and on entitlement reform Huntsman just adopted Ryan’s plan), but for some reason he and his campaign were reluctant to use what should have been a big advantage with conservatives. He was promoting financial regulation reform that ought to have created a sharp contrast between himself and his pro-TARP rivals, and which could have tapped into deep popular discontent with Wall Street. I don’t pretend that most people vote on policy, but Huntsman did an unusually poor job promoting his record and his policy proposals. He also had a tendency to use his debate answers to rattle off facts to show off what he knew, which often came at the cost of not answering the question or answering it in such a roundabout fashion that he lost the audience’s attention. His natural advantage was on foreign policy, which he managed to throw away by failing to challenge the ignorance of the reliably interventionist candidates and then by trying to outdo them in bellicose Iran rhetoric. Now that he has endorsed the candidate surrounded by Bush administration veterans, his failure to change Republican thinking on foreign policy for the better is complete.