What was it?
Was it the purple ties?
Was it the motorcycle?
Was it that cheeky tweet about believing in science?
All of the above?
Regardless, since arriving on the scene, Jon Huntsman has slipped below the fold. He might not be able to make it to the next debate — without 2 percent in three national polls, you don’t receive airtime, and he has only managed 2 percent in one. That’s worse than some milks. That’s worse than Newt Gingrich.
He should have known it was a problem when his two biggest resume credits were as governor of Utah (a state whose politeness is only exceeded by its consumption of online pornography) and as ambassador to China (a job that requires the ability to listen to foreigners respectfully and not spend all your time yelling). They say that diplomacy is the subtle art of knowing how much oil to mix with your vinegar. In the GOP primaries, it turns out you are supposed to leave the oil at home.
With Pawlenty’s departure from the field, we thought Huntsman had the polite vote sewn up. But it turns out that there is no polite vote. Or if there is, it doesn’t show up for the Republican primary — you can tell from the applause at the introduction of the death penalty.
Killing with kindness works in theory, but in practice it takes a long time and often people mistake it for the milquetoasty sort of kindness. American voters say what they want is someone mature, calm, and well-coiffed. But we’ll settle for one out of three. Usually the last.
Roger Ailes said of Rick Perry that he has the advantage that it appears "if he tells people he’s gonna kick their ass, he might actually do it, which is useful for a president.” Jon Huntsman lacks this advantage. When Perry said Bernanke was being treasonous, you could assume Bernanke had to hire armed guards to follow him everywhere and sleep with one eye open. When Huntsman said that Perry was being treasonous, it didn't even sting. It didn’t even register.
Maybe it was the ties. Anything other than red or blue proclaims that not only are you not a first-tier candidate, but that you know it. (Note Santorum’s pink.) But yellow? Purple?
Sometimes it didn’t seem as though Huntsman were actually running. It seemed as though he were a sample candidate. He wasn’t asking, “Would you vote for me?” He was asking, “Would you vote for someone like me, in theory?” In this field, an affirmative answer to that question generally meant, “Yes — Romney!”
“I’m running to test the theory that you can believe in science and still be a viable Republican contender!” Huntsman said. He tested that theory, all right. It’ll need more tests, though. The arguments against Huntsman were more substantial than simply that he believed in science. It would have been an uphill battle no matter what. In a field of Standard-Issue Republican Candidates, he had no real outstanding feature (job-creating governor? Take a number!) except a fondness for unpatriotic ties (suspect), time spent in China under the Obama administration (even more suspect) and all that nonsense about evolution. His distinct advantage was that it looks as though he stepped fully formed from a J. Crew catalog, and this was an advantage he shared with most of the other candidates.
And then there's the Michael Moore endorsement. Nothing says “you have no chance in the Republican primary” like “you have just been endorsed by Michael Moore.”
Might as well pack it in now, Jon. After all, he knew it wasn’t working. But when his approach shifted, it — left something to be desired. It was, as Churchill said, like being savaged by a dead sheep. It was like being yelled at by your Sunday school teacher. It was less terrifying than being attacked by Mitt Romney, and that’s saying something.
It’s too easy to say that this campaign was doomed from the start. But it was doomed before it even began. And it wasn’t the science. It wasn’t the politeness. What the GOP electorate seems to want right now is “Someone with as much name recognition as Mitt Romney or Rick Perry whom people actually, actively like.” Huntsman doesn’t even meet the first criterion.
This dog won’t hunt.