Jonny, We Hardly Knew Ye'

When the end finally arrived, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised if Jon Huntsman had broken out a quote from Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings and said, “I don't know half of you half as well as I should like, and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.” The former Utah governor had heard the clarion call to service and boldly set sail across the mighty Pacific, returning home from China to rescue the Republican Party from itself.

And what did he get for his trouble? The field of GOP hopefuls organized a magnificent holiday feast before the battle began, and Jon Huntsman was shown to a folding chair at the kid’s table. Following his somewhat disappointing third place finish in New Hampshire, he curiously described the result as a “ticket to ride” to South Carolina. But after only a handful of days, he apparently determined that all of the available hotel rooms in the Palmetto State were booked solid and will now presumably head home with his tail tucked firmly between his legs. (This comes after announcing that he will endorse Mitt Romney, of course, whom he recently described as being unelectable.)

So how did this campaign, adored by the media and once so full of hope and promise, wind up running aground worse than Costa Concordia? Pundits have been fielding theories since the moment the news broke. Reid Wilson, writing at the National Journal, proclaimed that Huntsman “was the answer to a call for moderation and pragmatism that no one in the Republican Party ever made.”

But his message was out of step with a Republican base driven by Tea Party populism and anger with the political status quo almost from the moment he began running. If Huntsman didn’t represent that status quo, voters certainly didn’t see their anger reflected in his calm demeanor. …

Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey took a completely different approach:

Jon Huntsman wasn’t a “pragmatic centrist who could reach out to Democrats.”  He governed in Utah as a conservative in a state controlled by the GOP, but talked like a centrist who despised conservatives.  Huntsman’s expensive and embarrassing flop really isn’t much more complicated than that.

I think the answer is a bit more diffuse than either of those explanations, but Reid comes a bit closer to the mark. The fact that Huntsman boasted a solid conservative record on the issues was obvious to those who cared to look closely, and this was repeatedly pointed out by right-leaning observers ranging from Erick Erickson to Joe Scarborough. In fact, were the job application process for the GOP nomination handled like an employment search through a headhunter’s office (without all the messiness of the candidates actually having to talk to us), Huntsman’s resume would likely have been sorted well near the top.