How Huntsman blew it

It’s difficult to believe that a seasoned diplomat like Huntsman didn’t have anything insightful to add on Iran — that he could only reiterate Gingrich’s fealty to Israel. But then maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps Huntsman is just too much of a diplomat. It will not aid him: Politics in New Hampshire is not diplomacy in Beijing. These days, it’s a gritty and over-the-top spectacle.

As I have written previously on NRO, Huntsman seems cut in the mold of former president George H. W. Bush — an experienced statesman armed with conservative credentials that would allow him to be a force on the national political scene. But it’s difficult to imagine George H. W. Bush or Ronald Reagan nodding agreeably on stage with a rival instead of going for the win. Reagan himself had a game-changing debate in New Hampshire in 1980 after Bush’s stunning though narrow victory in Iowa looked set to doom Reagan. Bush agreed to a Reagan-funded one-on-one debate three days before the New Hampshire primary, but Reagan invited the other remaining Republican hopefuls to join them, and then dismissed the moderator’s attempt to turn off his microphone by angrily stating that he was paying for it. The way he broke his deal with Bush wasn’t gentlemanly, but Reagan won the debate, New Hampshire, and the election.

The finale of Monday’s debacle: Gingrich bailed out on the post-debate press conference, a brilliant move that left Huntsman awkwardly answering questions from a bunch of storyless reporters about all the provocative things his opponent had said. Huntsman wouldn’t refute any of them. There was not a single question from the press about anything Huntsman had discussed over the previous hour and a half. Huntsman, I thought, seems like a good man, a smart man, a man whose daughters have brought life and excitement and enthusiasm and youth into the Republican campaign. Yet he just doesn’t want to fight. I’m still holding out hope — less than four weeks left! — that he’ll prove me wrong.