MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- When former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. abandoned his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination Monday, he endorsed Mitt Romney and bemoaned negative tactics on his way out the door.
He was polling at about 1 percent in South Carolina ahead of next Saturday’s crucial primary, so it was unclear how strategically significant the endorsement; after all, voters attracted to the moderate-toned Huntsman are more likely to go with Romney than any of the other candidates competing fiercely to be the purest conservative alternative.
“Ultimately, this election is about more than the future of one campaign or one party, it is about the future of our nation," Huntsman said in a brief appearance before a cluster of six U.S. flags in a hotel ballroom. “I believe it is now time for the party to unite around the candidate best equipped to defeat Barack Obama. Despite our differences and the space between us on some of the issues, I believe that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney.”
This would be the same Mitt Romney he had called a “well-lubricated weather vane,” in reference to the former Massachusetts governor’s shifting positions on several issues. He had also said Romney lacked a “core,” echoing the Obama campaign’s line of attack.
Those were tame shots compared to some of what has been flying around the GOP race lately and showing up on the South Carolina cable and broadcast airwaves – including depicting Romney as a “vulture capitalist” for his former role taking over and downsizing some companies as CEO of investment banker Bain Capital; Newt Gingrich’s “baggage,” such as a $300,000 payment to settle an ethics violation when he was House Speaker; and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s sponsorship of appropriations earmarks.
“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,” Huntsman said. “At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause.”