I wasn't going to bother doing an item on the big "Hunstman in '12" boomlet, but now that it's morphing into the "Hunstman in '12 so that Huntsman in '16" idea, well, sure.
In case you haven't been paying attention, we're talking about Jon Hunstman, former Republican governor of Utah, current Ambassodor to China, and noted GOP proponent of civil unions. He's leaving China amidst rumors, not knocked down, that he might run for president.
So, obviously a candidate who just spent time as part of the Obama administration, and who is off the party line on the gay issue, has no shot at the nomination this cycle. What about the theory, however, that he's positioning himself for the future?
Well, it's nuts. I mean, he might be thinking that -- for all we know, he's thinking that he'll win this time. Politicians are capable of believing all sorts of odd things. but the theory that running in order to get well known for the next time around will work is really goofy.
Let's take it this way. Since reform, the Republicans have nominated either the sitting president or the sitting vice president in 1972, 1976, 1984, 1988, 1992, and 2004. They've had relatively open contests, then, in 1980, 1996, 2000, and 2008.
The first two times, there was an extremely obvious candidate. In 1980, they had a two-time governor of the largest state in the union who was the clear leader of the dominant faction of the party for over a decade -- and who had run twice before, including almost defeating a sitting president for the nomination in 1976.
In 1996 it wasn't quite as clear, but Bob Dole was the Majority Leader of the Senate, a former VP nominee who had also run twice before, finishing as the clear runner-up in 1988.
There's nothing Jon Huntsman can do to reach that sort of status, at least without a VP nomination.
In the other two open nomination contests, in 2000 and 2008, there was no obvious candidate. The results? In 2000, a twice-elected big-state governor (and son of a president) won, in his first try. In 2008, the runner-up from 2000 won in his second try.
Obviously, Hunstman hasn't been on the George W. Bush path. Could running put him on the path that took John McCain to the nomination? Well, it would first of all require him to actually do well in 2012; if not finishing second, at least surviving, say, through New Hampshire. Is that likely? Sure doesn't look like it to me.
More to the point: OK, John McCain certainly counts as a candidate who became a national figure by running for president, and later won a nomination. That's one. Against that, there's Lamar Alexander, and Liddy Dole, and Pete DuPont, and Howard Baker, and Phil Gramm, and John Connally, and Arlen Specter, and Dick Lugar, and...I won't go on, but it's obviously a long list. Given that run-and-lose has only won one of the two truly open contests, it's hard to see any point to that.
OK, what about that VP nod, though? Two nominees (Dole and Bush) had previously been nominated for the second spot on a ticket. Huntsman would certainly move up for 2016 if he ran on the bottom of the ticket and lost (and would be in even better shape, of course, if he became vice president).
Alas, run-and-lose isn't really a great way to get on the bottom of the ticket, either. The GOP VP candidates in 1968, 1976, 1988, 2000, and 2008 had not run previously; the selections in 1980 and 1996 were former candidates. Of those, only Jack Kemp in 1996 had been a washout presidential candidate, as Huntsman is likely to be if he runs. At any rate, it's hard to see someone who would almost certainly draw a veto from Christian right groups
Of course, the chances of anyone winning a nomination are always long. Jon Huntsman probably wouldn't have been president even if he had stayed put in Utah and had stuck to the party line on every issue, just because the odds are against any particular candidate winning a nomination. It's also pretty clear that George H.W. Bush would almost certainly never have been president had he not embarked on a longshot candidacy in 1980, and John McCain would probably not have been a nominee had he not run in 2000 (could he have been? Sure. Someone had to win in 2008, and it wasn't going to be Rudy Giuliani). After all, as little evidence as there is that running and washing out after Iowa won't get you a future nomination, there's not any evidence that it would hurt, exactly. But it's an awful lot to go through with very little evidence that it would do any good.