"You come in and you do your favors for people," University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said.
Even 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney is campaigning for candidates in Iowa despite saying "no" to a third presidential run.
Hagle said some political figures who go back and forth in the media about getting in a race are just seeking attention. That's true for real estate mogul Donald Trump, who has never actually run, but not necessarily Huntsman, Hagle said.
"It is a tough decision, even for someone who's done it before," Hagle said of running. "If you're a little more honest, a little open and just telling people what you feel at a particular time, it can come across as a little indecisive."
Utah advertising executive Tom Love, a longtime friend of Huntsman, said he doesn't see Huntsman making conflicting statements about the 2016 race as a strategy to get people to pay attention to him.
"I don't see Jon as manipulative. He speaks from the gut," Love said.
He said he believes Huntsman is being genuine.
"I would say he's telling the truth as he sees it at the time," Love said.
Huntsman said he's not playing politics with the 2016 race, which he described as attempting "to grandstand, to try and take advantage of some opening. I just don't do that."
Instead, Huntsman said, he is raising issues such as the influence of money in the political process and a presidential primary process he believes hurts candidates by starting in largely conservative states.
"I'm not out there talking as a candidate," he said. "I'm out there talking about things that candidates won't talk about because they can't, like money and politics, and how it is destroying the country."
Huntsman also said he worries about the trivialization of politics in the United States.
"Every year we fall a little bit farther behind because we focus on the small stuff, and trivial stuff, and the theatrical stuff that means nothing to our long-term well-being," he said.
That includes paying too much attention to who's in and who's out in the presidential race, Huntsman said, "speculating on the horse race. That's all people want to write about — the horse race."
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