Jon Huntsman is smart enough to have known from the outset that he had no chance of winning the Republican nomination for president in 2012. Simply put, he's too moderate for today's crowd of ultra-right wing conservatives and he knows it. Barry Goldwater would be considered too moderate for today's ultra-right wing conservatives.
So why would a moderate like Huntsman enter a primary he had no chance of winning?
Because securing the 2012 nomination was never really Jon Huntsman's objective. Campaigning in the 2012 primaries was the former Utah governor's way of introducing himself to the nation as a sensible, experienced moderate, an alternative to the shrill, pandering, flip-flopping candidates with whom he shared the debate stage. It was a rehearsal. Simply put, he was in it for the exposure.
Ironically, Huntsman's strategy probably depends on a Republican defeat in 2012. Will Romney win enough votes to bury the Mormon issue, thus clearing the path for another Mormon? By 2016, will the Republican Party have come to its senses, abandon the Tea Party's calamitous ultra-conservative philosophy and turn to the center? If so, four years from now, they'll be looking for an intelligent, articulate moderate who can win.
Enter Jon Huntsman.
In other words, for Huntsman, 2012 was a launching pad for 2016. He traveled around the country, delivered speeches, positioned himself as the only reasonable candidate on the ballot, honed his debating skills, built a nationwide campaign operation, gained supporters, and made valuable contacts with powerful Republican donors. All of which will serve him well in 2016.
To keep his name alive, he will campaign for the Republican nominee (probably Romney, who he has already endorsed), in exchange for a speaking slot at the convention. During the 2014 midterms, he will once again tour the country, making speeches in support of the GOP's more centrist candidates. He will make the mandatory world tour and be photographed with world leaders. He will spend lots of time in Iowa and New Hampshire. He will court American minority voters. He will write a book, which will launch him on a national book tour. He will appear on The Daily Show, be a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher, and fall far short of kowtowing to Rush Limbaugh.
In 2015, he will win the Republican nomination for President.