Huntsman wasn’t alone in his fantasy though. The White House, too, feared a Republican Party that reacted against Obama by moving to the middle, and saw Huntsman as the logical future of the GOP. That May, Obama named him Ambassador to Beijing, taking a threat out of the picture.
That didn’t actually take Huntsman out of the picture. And, in retrospect, it was absurd to think that Obama needed to worry about a man so wildly out of step with his party. Huntsman’s campaign has been, from the beginning, a fantasy driven by a fundamental misunderstanding of his own party. (“I still don’t understand why [White House Chief of Staff] Rahm [Emanuel] was so obsessed with him,” a top Democratic official marveled Sunday night.)
The party Huntsman imagined — modernizing, reforming, and youthful — could still be born. That might be the reaction to a second smashing defeat at Obama’s hands, or that might be where President Romney takes his re-election campaign. But it’s now hard to see Huntsman leading that change. He bet, too early, on a fantasy, and ran for the nomination of a party that doesn’t exist, at least not yet. His decision tonight to drop out just marks his recognition of that fact.
The Republican establishment seems to have succeeded in pushing through a candidate who doesn’t strike everyone as a right-wing lunatic, but it had to fight like hell to do it. There is absolutely no indication that the Republican base won’t move farther and farther right for the near future. Joe Scar and Mark Halperin can fluff the Huntsmans of the world all they want, it won’t make any difference.
There’s a temptation with politics to make things more complicated than their really are, to imagine that American politics isn’t (at a macro-scale) driven primarily by race, to imagine a Republican party that is soul-searching rather than merely going insane. People should resist this temptation.