Who knows when reality eventually set in for Jon Huntsman? But when you are running for the presidency of the United States, it is probably not a harbinger of good things when you find yourself lagging in the South Carolina Republican primary polls behind Stephen Colbert's fake anchorman persona.
So it was probably wise for Huntsman to go before he had to endure the indignity of falling behind Ted Baxter, Ron Burgundy and Les Nessman.
It all started out with so much promise for Huntsman. He looked like a president. He had the resume of a president. He talked like a president. And the conventional wisdom argued he was probably the smartest pol in the presidential race. Given the Republican penchant this election cycle to populate its presidential field with the cast from Animal House, this was a campaign doomed from the start.
As Huntsman hides away to lick his wounds, the former Utah governor leaves the stump with some hard lessons learned. And first and foremost is the reality that running for the presidency is not like one of those old Andy Hardy movies where a musical is created on the fly — from the music to the choreography to the sets to the costumes — and performed the same day.
Running for the White House requires thousands of volunteers, state organizations, consultants, media experts and tens of millions of dollars. And it all begins years before, with the candidate traveling the country to lay the groundwork for a future run by meeting local power-brokers and eating dreadful chicken.
You also need one of those sleazy, anonymous, phony flag-waving political action committees, funded by unaccountable mystery money. It creates misleading commercials to spread lies about your opponent based on the theory that since the body politic is more gullible than Edith Bunker, you can sell all sorts of balderdash to the electorate and no one will be wiser.
Huntsman? He entered the race very late then spent his time flitting about New Hampshire like a fraternity pledge hoping to catch fire, thus leading to landslides in South Carolina and Florida, where he had less name recognition than Current TV.
As wishful thinking goes, this was right up there with believing the Tampa Bay Bucs would make it to the Super Bowl.
The former ambassador to China also committed the almost unpardonable political sin of showing up at debates and trying to make sense. What was he thinking?
There are only two rules to presidential debates. Try to say as little as possible, so no one will remember what you said. And avoid saying anything that makes you come off as dumber than a sack of Glenn Becks. On this point, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who can't seem to open his mouth without inserting the feet of the entire Texas A&M marching band, has emerged as the clueless Kato Kaelin of the hustings.
So Huntsman stepped aside, throwing his support to Romney with all the enthusiasm of a condemned man mulling over his final meal of stewed prunes.
It is probably an interesting commentary on the dysfunctional dynamics of political life that Huntsman would prefer Romney, whom he had frequently described as an "unelectable" flip-flopper on abortion, gun control and the bargaining rights for unions. He likes to fire people, too, Huntsman once crowed. But outside of all that, Romney is just a splendid chap.
Perhaps that explains why, in advance of his withdrawal announcement and grudging endorsement of his former foe, the Huntsman camp scrubbed the candidate's website to remove all those references to Romney as being less electable than Fred Thompson.
You never know. Should Romney prevail, Huntsman could be expecting a high-level appointment. However, given the personal animus between the two men, Huntsman might well wind up the ambassador to the China Buffet in Wesley Chapel.
Really now, what is the endorsement worth of someone nobody cared about in the first place? This had all the pivotal political value of Pinellas County Commissioner Norm Roche issuing a presidential nod.
There's an old adage in the campaign game. You run once to create name recognition and you run a second time to get elected.
So Huntsman has fulfilled the first part of the equation.
Now, if he wants, he has four years to tour the land to enhance his profile and carefully recraft his image as suitably ideologically nuts to position himself for a 2016 Huntsman, The Sequel campaign.
You're counting the moments, aren't you?