Jon Huntsman Jr. could have ended his presidential candidacy after the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 10, or he could have waited until the South Carolina primary on Jan. 21. Instead, Huntsman surprised everybody with the timing of his Monday announcement that he is dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, effective immediately.
After Huntsman's press conference at the Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Convention Center — the same place where Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry will debate tonight — several questions were left lingering in the air
Why withdraw now?
From the New York Times' The Caucus blog: "Mr. Huntsman's aides said he made the decision to drop out after he had come to believe that he would only be playing the role of spoiler in Saturday's primary here. He does not believe, aides said, that a protracted battle between Mr. Romney and a more conservative alternative would be helpful to the party in its ultimate goal of defeating Mr. Obama in the fall."
Who stands to benefit most from Huntsman's departure?
Almost certainly Mitt Romney, both because of Huntsman's decision to endorse Mitt and the fact that most people who preferred Huntsman had Romney as their second choice.
Nate Silver of the FiveThirtyEight blog wrote Sunday night that Huntsman's withdrawal "should provide a small but helpful boost to the man he plans to endorse, Mitt Romney. Although Mr. Huntsman had relatively little support in the polls outside of New Hampshire, recent surveys suggested that the plurality of his supporters had Mr. Romney as their second choice."
Which candidate will be next out the door?
Most likely Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who already came oh-so-close to terminating his candidacy less than two weeks ago.
Molly Ball at The Atlantic reported Monday, "Perry appeared to have gotten the message after his fifth-place finish in Iowa, saying in his concession that night that he would go back to Texas and reassess his campaign. But he woke up the next morning determined to continue, surprising his own staff by announcing on Twitter he was headed to South Carolina. Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Perry received less than 1 percent of the vote. Though his debate performances have improved from their dark nadir, his attacks on Romney's business credentials as 'vulture capitalism' have not appeared to resonate with South Carolina Republicans."
What happens to the money left in the pro-Huntsman super PAC?
Our Destiny PAC has spent millions to support Huntsman's campaign, and there may still be millions more left in its coffers. However, there is little in the way of campaign finance law that governs what happens to a super PAC that supports a specific candidate when that candidate drops out of the race, according to blogger Aaron Blake writing at the Washington Post's The Fix blog.
"Huntsman himself can step in, take over the super PAC and use it as his own personal, for lack of a better phrase, slush fund. It's not clear yet that Huntsman even wants to do that (or that there's even any money left over in the super PAC, which has been funded in large part by Huntsman's extremely wealthy father of the same name), but we're charting new waters here. And if nothing else, politicians have shown themselves to be resourceful when it comes to gaming campaign finance laws."
What are Huntsman's hopes for the GOP moving forward?
At his press conference Monday, the former Utah governor implored the Republican Party to shape up the tone of its political discourse.
"This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people and not worthy of this critical time in our nation's history. I call on each campaign to cease attacking each other and instead talk directly to the American people about how our conservative ideas will create jobs, reduce our nation's debt, stabilize energy prices and provide a brighter future for our children and our grandchildren."
Whether Romney, Perry, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul will do the right thing and heed the Huntsman plea for civility remains to be seen, but one can at least have the audacity to hope that some of the remaining candidates will give weight to Huntsman's words.