Jon Huntsman, an “also ran” in the race for the GOP nomination for President, announced that he will not be attending the Republican convention this year, or any other Republican convention for that matter, until the party focuses on a bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States.”
In other words, until everyone agrees to play by his rules, Huntsman is taking his ball and going home.
Republicans–at least those who noticed the statement at all–collectively rolled their eyes.
In his January endorsement of then front-runner Mitt Romney, Huntsman called for an end to “toxic” politics and a return to unity within the Republican Party, but since has done his best to alienate himself from the very people he seems to want to lead. Since dropping out of the race after winning only two delegates from New Hampshire, Huntsman has had little good to say about his party (or before, some might argue. Despite his claims at wanting a “civil” campaign, few were so biting in their critique of Romney during debates). For a man whose main complaint is that he wants the Republican Party to focus “a future based on problem solving, inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the trust deficit,” Huntsman’s snipping at those who are in the fight demonstrates less leadership and more bitterness. Blame it on Mitt or blame it on the Tea Party, but the fact of the matter is that voters just didn’t want Huntsman this time around.
It’s easy to be a winner, but losing is hard, and it’s in the midst of a loss that a man’s true colors are seen. To paraphrase Kipling, Huntsman made one heap of all his winnings, pinning all his Presidential hopes on New Hampshire, lost it, and is now doing anything but never breathing a word about his loss.
Indeed, every word he breathes seems to be dripping with bitterness over his loss. Whether it is to complain that politics are “toxic” or that the Republican Party lacks vision for a “bigger, bolder, more confident future for” America, it’s not politics, America, or Party he’s talking about–it’s his loss that we are hearing. He seems to often forget that his main constituency during the campaign was the news media, not the primary voters, and his failure to resonate with voters was a message he can either learn from or resent.
In some ways, his behavior sets a striking contrast with another Republican politician who once lost the Republican nomination battle. In 2008 Romney, like Huntsman, lost the race for the nomination to John McCain (ironically, a candidate that had himself run before and lost). Uninspired, America chose Barack Obama, a relatively inexperienced first term Senator from Illinois who talked of hope and change and provided a vision to a country facing one of the deepest economic downturns in government and two seemly endless wars (to say nothing of a host of other issues).
Losing in 2008, Mitt Romney took his hat in hand and campaigned for John McCain, a candidate that had been not only a rival, but dismissive and derisive towards Romney throughout the campaign. Falling from the heights, Romney never once complained or made a backhanded comment about his party or the nominee, but worked hard to help both, both stumping and fundraising for McCain.
This doesn’t mean that Huntsman doesn’t have a point. We do need leadership. America is in need of a vision of a bigger, better future. But finding that future doesn’t come through publicly criticizing your own team’s current state of affairs. Rather, it comes by getting out in front of the team and leading the way. It comes by showing Americans why they should vote for Republican ideas and for a Republican in the White House, by reminding them that “America desperately needs a return to conservative principles: limited government, lower taxes and balanced budgets.”
In fact, those are Huntsman’s own words, spoken right after her reminded America that 2012 was the “most important election in our lifetime.” I can’t help but wonder: if it’s so important, why aren’t you out fighting to remind America that after “three years of bigger government, higher taxes and more spending,” Romney is a better choice?
Elections are all about the future and if, as Huntsman is arguing, America and the Republican party is facing a trust and a leadership gap, he’s showing us that we can’t rely upon him to show that leadership. There is much to like about Jon Huntsman, but if he’s going to become the leader that he seems to be looking for, he needs to first recognize that one cannot provide leadership from the sidelines. Sitting this one out–meaning the 2012 election–hurts his ability to build upon his campaign and move the party in a direction that he thinks can best serve America.
They say you can learn a lot about a man by how he reacts to a loss. If that’s the case, we’re learning a lot about Jon Huntsman that will be difficult to forget in years to come.