“Some do it professionally. Some were entertainers,” he said of the Republican presidential field. “I looked down the debate stage, and half of them were probably on Fox contracts at one point in their career. You do that. You write some books. You go out and you sell some more. You get a radio gig or a TV gig out of it or something. And it’s like, you say to yourself, the barriers of entry to this game are pretty damn low.”

He chuckled a bit when reminded that a pizza conglomerate, in the person of Herman Cain, had led the Iowa caucus polls at one point. “It wasn’t a period where rational thinking or any kind of commitment to reality or truth or optimism necessarily prevailed,” Huntsman said. “It was how can you eviscerate the opposition.”

The process engulfed him too. During one such debate in August 2011, Huntsman joined the chorus of opposition to a hypothetical deficit-reduction deal that had $10 of spending cuts for every $1 in revenue hikes. It was, he said now, “pretty much the low point of [my] campaign.”