James Fallows thinks that Huntsman’s exit was graceful enough that despite some bruises, he comes out a lot stronger than before:
We can’t tell anything about politics in real time, but my guess at the moment is that the run will have left him somewhat better off, bruised and rejected as he and his (attractive) family and staff must be feeling now. He has trivially embarrassed himself in a way he’ll easily be able to make fun of next time, with his Tourette’s-style interjection of Mandarin one-liners at debates and on the stump. This will be the equivalent of Bill Clinton making fun of his embarrassment at the 1988 Democratic convention, where he was mocked and practically hooted off the stage for an interminable speech nominating Michael Dukakis. Huntsman embarrassed himself with another split-second decision he’ll have time to reflect upon and learn from. That was when he raised his hand, along with everyone else, in saying that he, too, would reject a budget deal skewed even 10-to-1 for budget cuts rather than tax increases.
But he also had a flash he can build on, when he dressed down Mitt Romney in the last New Hampshire debate for derogating Huntsman’s “service to country” as ambassador to China. And he had many more moments when he seemed to be making high-road (if occasionally wacky) appeals than showing anger, bitterness, a willingness to pander, or other traits that will grate and make people dread the sound of his name four years from now. To illustrate the contrast: who, except the Democrats, would truly relish the prospect of Newt 2016? Or Cain?
Indeed, although it is almost certain now that Romney will be the nominee – the troops will rally round him soon enough; Ron Paul is too much of a threat to the status quo – it is much less likely that Romney will beat Obama in November. He is the inevitable GOP candidate, but not a well-loved Republican among the base he needs badly behind him. A lot may ride on his vice presidential pick, though it’s hard to imagine that choice being as influential as it was for John McCain’s campaign in 2008.
Still, while Romney may be the nominee one has to wonder if Huntsman is still better situated to become president some day. He will be a more familiar figure over the next four years. Assuming Obama wins, 2016 is an open race. Huntsman comes into it popular and better known than in 2012. There’s plenty of unknowns, of course: the economy, the Iran situation, etc. But I’d wager that just about any Republican has a better chance in 2016 against a non-incumbent Democrat than they do toppling Obama in 2012.