Yes, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr. is still running for president. And yes, he will be on stage Wednesday to face off against the presidential field in the Republican debate.
In this race, Huntsman has been like a highly-touted college basketball star who makes it to the NBA and ends up not quite able, at least yet, to rise to the next level. The argument has always been that Huntsman’s problem is the Republican Party — it’s too red hot, and he’s too dead center.
But, in reality, since joining the race in June, Huntsman hasn’t done much to make make himself look like a commander-in-chief. He hasn’t delivered a truly memorable speech. His debate performances have been mostly forgettable, except for his attempts at humor. And in interviews, the former Utah governor and Obama ambassador to China tends to come off as stern and aloof.
So tonight, Huntsman must be memorable and drop the broad, sweeping answers to basic questions. He should probably stop joking too, unless it’s with utter self-deprecation.
And mostly, Huntsman must connect with that silent center that is looking for a reasonable candidate that looks, feels, and acts like a commander-in-chief.
And if Huntsman can’t hit that note (Romney has come the closest in this regard) then it will become increasingly clear that it’s not the league or the game, it’s the player.