This is, in fact, a very popular theory of Mr. Huntsman’s motives, and I address it in the piece. But I have to tell you that, in my experience, it’s just not in the nature of most serious politicians to run for any office — including the presidency — expecting to lose. I don’t doubt that 2016 is in the back of Mr. Huntsman’s mind, but I’m pretty sure this campaign isn’t some clever ploy to set himself up for later. He has convinced himself he can win now.Look, I don't think Huntsman has a chance. But you know who does? New York Times reporter Matt Bai! That's pretty good! Not just him; Intrade ranks him as the 4th most likely nominee (if you interpret it that way). There are others, too. Who do you think Huntsman's strongest supporters are going to believe: the doubters, or the believers? So they're going to clip every "Huntsman's a serious contender" story they see, and you can bet he's going to see every one of those.
And that's the way it is for every candidate: there's someone out there, with some sort of reasonable credentials, who is optimistic about his or her chances. Nate Silver says that Herman Cain can win. Jonathan Chait thinks that Michele Bachmann can win. You can even find people who said that Newt Gingrich could win. I won't embarrass anyone by linking to a "Take Trump Seriously" piece, but, you know, they were out there. For what it's worth, I said that Jim DeMint and Haley Barbour had plausible chances of winning.
Meanwhile, there are lots of pieces out there too about why each of the candidates has no chance to win -- and again, I'm sure Huntsman's supporters are clipping all the arguments for why Romney can't win, and Palenty is going nowhere, and Bachmann has no chance. He sees those; he may or may not see the ones about how they might win after all.
And that's even before you get into the ego of the whole thing. What politician doesn't look around at the other candidates and just know that he or she at the very least belongs in the group?
Now, it's also possible that Huntsman, or other candidates, also think of future benefits as part of the plus side of running now. But I fully agree with Bai on this one: the odds are very good that he believes he can win.