The day after the GOP presidential debate in Ames, Iowa, Jon Huntsman high-tailed it out of the state and headed straight to New Hampshire for a weekend of meet-and-greets. His debate performance, however, wasn’t forgotten so easily.
While Huntsman sought valiantly to distinguish himself as above the fray and defend his record, observers were left with either a bitter taste or none at all. Reactions were either negative or nonexistent.
A blog post at the Salt Lake Tribune summed up the performance by saying that Huntsman was a “scoop of vanilla in a dish of rocky road. Smooth, a little bland, and different from the rest.”
Florida media consultant Rick Wilson told The Daily Caller in an email Friday morning, “Everybody had someone to spar with: Tpaw/Bachmann, Santorum/Grandpa Crazypants, Newt/Bret Baier and Mitt Romney with Barack Obama. Huntsman? Not so much.”
Others focused on the perception of Huntsman as a moderate candidate.
For example, Huntsman’s staunch defense of the debt-limit deal from House Speaker John Boehner fell flat with one South Carolina-based consultant.
Wesley Donehue, a former consultant with Sen. Jim DeMint, told TheDC that “Supporting the debt ceiling deal when our extremely popular congressional delegation was against it was not the good for him.”
“He in effect called Congressmen Mulvaney, Gowdy, Wilson, Duncan and Scott irresponsible,”Donehue added. “Not smart.”
When confronted by Fox News’ Chris Wallace during the debate on whether he may be “running for president in the wrong party,” Huntsman stuck to his strategy of not running from his past and touting his record as governor of Utah.
“I — I am running on my record, and I’m proud to run on my record,” he said.
Still, can Huntsman’s campaign be turned around?
One Iowa GOP source bluntly told TheDC “Stick a fork in him, he is finished”.
Another Iowan simply called the performance “uninspired.”
“He’s a paradox: smart, capable, but base voters aren’t responding to what one told me is ‘his John-McCain-without-the-war-record schtick,’” added Wilson. “Hard to see a path for him at this point.”
For Donehue, Huntsman needs to just “quit being a moderate.”
Huntsman’s first debate may not have gotten rave reviews, but there are plenty more ahead that will give him a chance at redemption. September alone has three debates: The CNN-Tea Party Express debate will be in Tampa, Florida on September 12; the Politico-NBC debate at the Ronald Reagan Library is scheduled for September 14; and Fox News will partner with the Republican Party of Florida to host a debate in Orlando on September 22.