Huntsman never connected to the Republican base, for a number of reasons. Conservatives, especially in the Tea Party, didn’t extend much trust to a man who showered praise on President Obama as a “remarkable leader” with “brilliant analysis of world events,” and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as having “even more charisma than her husband!” Nor did the manner of his leaving impress Republicans, having made it known that he wanted to challenge his boss for the White House before officially resigning from his post in the administration.
If Tea Party conservatives didn’t warm to Huntsman, the feeling was undeniably mutual. Earlier this week, Huntsman told Politico that he hoped that the cycles of political thought “ultimately takes us to a sane Republican Party based on real ideas,” after supposedly “losing its equilibrium” in the Obama era....I'll grant that Huntsman's praise of his onetime boss could've been less fulsome, and also that (as Morrissey elsewhere complains) Huntsman's jokes sometimes fall flat. Plus, Morrissey may be right to second-guess Huntsman's strategy of bypassing Iowa and placing so much political capital on New Hampshire instead.
But what I find manifestly true, and extremely important, is that the Republican Party did lose its equilibrium in the Obama era, and became a vehicle for various ideas and impulses that don't pass a sanity test. These range from birtherism to worries about "Kenyan anti-colonialism" to science denialism on climate change. (Note: there's room for debate as to what policies to adopt in light of climate change, but not for obstinately denying well-established facts that global warming is occurring and anthropogenic.)
A key attraction of Huntsman is that he won't succumb to that Obama-era fever. And if -- unlikely though not impossible -- he wins the nomination, he's far and away the candidate most likely to win the election. Steering the Republican Party away from its worst impulses, while maintaining a broadly conservative stance, and actually winning in the event that he is the nominee: that's the point of the Huntsman campaign.
UPDATE 1/16: Huntsman's out. Which means centrist types who won't vote for Obama can now choose between Romney and Kotlikoff.