Okay. What is the real reason Jon Huntsman dropped out of the governor's race? I've been asked that question 50 times the past few days.
I say, "What's wrong with the reasons he gave?" that his candidacy is splitting the Republican Party and his billion-dollar chemical company needs his attention. But, there must be some deep, dark secret behind all this, they say.I don't see a dark secret.
I do see a man Huntsman who really believed that Gov. Norm Bangerter would step aside for him, giving Huntsman the GOP nomination and a clear shot against Democrat Ted Wilson. But Bangerter wouldn't step aside.
Huntsman also believed other Republican heavy-hitters, like Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch, would retract their endorsements of Bangerter and jump into his camp. They didn't.
And he believed that his candidacy would be welcomed by all involved, including the media. It wasn't.
When Bangerter said he'd fight to the end, when it became clear that Bangerter was taking the Huntsman challenge very personally and might not even endorse Huntsman if the challenger beat the governor in a GOP primary Huntsman decided it just wasn't worth it.
Here's some evidence for that theory:
When Huntsman met with Bangerter privately in mid-March to tell him he was going to run for governor, he told Bangerter that he wasn't going to make his announcement public for several days.
Thus, Bangerter could reflect on his chances of winning, ponder how good a candidate Huntsman would be, and then do what was right get out and save the governorship for the Republicans.
But Huntsman seriously miscalculated Bangerter. The governor is a fighter. He hates to lose. Instead of getting out, he instructed his campaign aides to immediately start lining up endorsements from Republicans, without telling them Huntsman was going to get in.
Huntsman was rather shocked by Bangerter's actions. But maybe Huntsman hadn't heard about a meeting several months ago. In discussing the upcoming election, Bangerter was asked why he's running for a second term. "Because I don't like someone else deciding my future for me," he reportedly responded.
Two weeks ago, before his Asian trip, Huntsman and some Republicans still hoped Bangerter would reconsider.
Two or three influential Republicans began calling those close to Bangerter, saying that a deal had to be struck that Bangerter or Huntsman had to get out. It was suggested in these telephone calls that Bangerter choose who got out.
Bangerter aides laughed at that suggestion. "We haven't heard that proposal," said Bangerter campaign manager Dave Buhler at the time. "But if we do it will be an easy choice: The governor is in and Jon is out."
Huntsman still had one more hope. At the end of March, the governor received a new campaign poll and took it with him to his St. George house over Easter weekend. It was hoped by Huntsman's supporters that Bangerter would study the disheartening poll results, which showed Huntsman widening his lead, and announce he wasn't going to run.
He didn't. Bangerter came back realizing he could lose the primary to Huntsman, but vowing not to give him anything.
Huntsman returned from a 10-day Asian trip to find a long, difficult campaign ahead of him and a resolved Bangerter. Here were some options Huntsman no doubt considered:
One, he could stay in the race, beat Bangerter, beat Wilson, and be a governor who is hated by the Bangerter wing of the Republican Party.
Two, he could stay in the race, beat Bangerter but lose to Wilson and be blamed for losing the governorship.
Three, he could stay in the race, lose to Bangerter, who would then lose to Wilson. Huntsman would be blamed for splitting the party and costing Bangerter his governorship.
Four, he could stay in the race, lose to Bangerter, who would beat Wilson. Then Huntsman would be hated by a sitting GOP governor and disliked by a number of Republicans for causing so much pain.
Five, he could get out of the race, work for Bangerter and watch him lose to Wilson. Huntsman would be hailed as the man who did the right thing, who put party before self. Bangerter would take the blame for not giving way to Huntsman and losing the GOP the governorship.
Six, he could get out of the race and Bangerter would beat Wilson. Huntsman would be praised for doing the right thing and helping Bangerter hold the governorship for the Republicans. He could even play a role in the second Bangerter administration, keeping his powder dry for a future run for the governorship.
Only in one of the six scenarios would Huntsman win the governorship, and even then a number of Republicans would dislike him and the party would have wounds to heal. He chose to get out, a decision that may not have been easy for him. His reasons for getting out sound plausible and should be taken at face value.