Departing Jon Huntsman decries 'toxic' GOP campaign

Jon Huntsman Monday dropped out of the Republican presidential race, which he said 'has degenerated into an onslaught of negative attacks.' He endorsed Mitt Romney, although that's unlikely to have much impact on the campaign.

Ann Hermes/Staff
Jon Huntsman announces that he is dropping out of the presidential race in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday.

Jon Huntsman made it official Monday – dropping out of the presidential race and endorsing Mitt Romney. In essence, the political world has reacted with a collective shrug.

The former Utah governor’s campaign never really got off the ground. He remained at the bottom of the polls, missing out on the surges enjoyed by his rivals trying to knock Romney from the top spot.

Even his endorsing Romney – jumping on a bandwagon headed at a speedy pace toward Saturday’s South Carolina primary and beyond – is unlikely to change the GOP presidential dynamic. Remember Tim Pawlenty? He jumped to Romney’s ship when he dropped out, and he’s barely been heard from since.

The other four remaining candidates are happy to have their numbers whittled down – which could make things more interesting in Monday night’s debate on Fox News as they get more time to snap at Romney’s ankles. Other than that, they don’t see much change.

“Gov. Huntsman ran as a moderate, trying to compete with Gov. Romney for the establishment moderate vote,” Rick Santorum told Politico Monday. “Gov. Romney had a leg up on him being a solid moderate that the establishment could get behind. Gov. Huntsman wasn’t able to crack through that. So I’m not surprised by that all, and I anticipated that actually sooner than today.”

Democrats are sure to replay the nice things Huntsman once had to say about the president he served as ambassador to China – not to mention his sharp comments about Romney. (On camera, Huntsman once called Romney “unelectable.”)

Tweeted Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod: “Hunts called Obama ‘a remarkable leader,’ Mitt ‘perfectly lubricated weather vane.’ Now hes 4 Mitt, and decries loss of ‘trust’ in politics?”

From the beginning, Huntsman emphasized “civility, humanity, and respect” in his campaign, and he ended his press conference Monday noting the lack of those qualities in the GOP presidential contest so far.

“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time,” Huntsman said. “At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause.”

Following his disappointing performance in the New Hampshire primary – third place behind Romney and Ron Paul in the state where he’d put most of his campaign effort – it was clear from state polls that he’d do no better than fifth or sixth in South Carolina. Besides, his campaign was running out of money.

"I believe it is now time for our party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama," Huntsman said from Myrtle Beach, S.C. "Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Mitt Romney."

Romney – who’s trying to portray himself as a true believer among socially conservative evangelical Christians in red states (especially the South) – did not join the clearly moderate Huntsman Monday. Instead, the Romney campaign issued a brief statement: “I salute Jon Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye. Jon ran a spirited campaign based on unity not division, and love of country.  I appreciate his friendship and support.”

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.