The U.S. ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., officially confirmed his resignation yesterday, handing President Obama a letter stating his intention to leave his post in late April. With rumors already floating that Huntsman, former Republican governor of Utah, was considering a presidential bid—stirred mostly from comments made in a recent Newsweek profile—the tea leaves seem to be telling us Huntsman isn’t settling down to paint watercolors of the vistas from his recently purchased $3.6 million Washington, D.C. home.
In the flurry of Huntsman reporting that got a brief look-in yesterday—news of the resignation was somewhat muted by developments in Egypt and the most recent federal court decision on the Affordable Care Act—reporters wrestled not only with Huntsman’s potential candidacy, but with his viability as a Republican candidate in the primaries and then in the general. And it seems in the immediate, just-hours-after-the-news-broke analyses, the media has mostly decided Huntsman’s chances are looking slim.
The legacy outlets are homing in on the problems with the unannounced candidate. In the Times’s report, Jeff Zeleny outlines Huntsman’s challenges.
The first Republican contests of the 2012 nominating season are one year away and at least a half-dozen candidates are seriously surveying the landscape. It remains an open question how Mr. Huntsman would appeal to Republican primary voters, particularly because of a moderate record he assembled in his four years as governor of Utah, where he became a leading moderate voice of the party on issues like immigration, gay rights and the environment.
And, of course, the fact that Mr. Huntsman, 50, worked in the Obama administration could also be a complicating factor.
That last point is unpacked in a Post story published online this morning, “Obama praise could hurt two 2012 GOP candidates,” and by Chris Cillizza in a post for The Fix titled “The case against Jon Huntsman” (Cillizza’s equally thorough case for Huntsman is here.)
Cillizza lists five problems and fleshes them out well: Huntsman’s association with Obama; the fact that he’s a Mormon; that he’s too moderate (he supports the gays!); that he’s unknown; and that foreign policy is likely to be a second-tier issue in 2012, at best. But it’s the Obama connection that sticks. As Cillizza writes, “There is no figure in American politics right now who Republican voters distrust and dislike more than President Obama. So, having served in his Administration is not an ideal launching pad for a bid for the GOP nomination.”
Cillizza’s Post colleague Ezra Klein asks: “Can someone sketch me out an even moderately plausible scenario in which a moderate Republican governor who broke with his party on civil unions and cap-and-trade and then joined the Obama administration wins both the GOP nomination and the presidential election in 2012?”
Politics Daily also focused on Huntsman’s difficulties, noting that those on the far right are already unsheathing in light of Huntsman’s resignation.
But the humorous responses of Obama and Daley to the prospect of a Huntsman candidacy may bear a grain of truth since Huntsman is mostly seen as a moderate who advocates a pragmatic approach to governing.
The conservative RightSphere.com blog said that “Huntsman is for most intents and purposes much more like the winner of the 2008 nomination, John McCain. Both are regarded as centrists, although for separate reasons and issues. Huntsman says himself the key to future conservative success is to move to the center on issues such as gay rights, the environment, and immigration.”
Speaking of the far right, over at the website with my favorite banner in all of Internetdom, Conservatives 4 Palin, Doug Brady considers the effect of a Huntsman run on Mitt Romney’s chances (note: Brady is no Romney fan).
There is, of course, no hard evidence that Huntsman will run, but there has been a lot of speculation in recent days that he’ll do just that. I certainly hope he does, as a Huntsman candidacy will further split the squishy moderate vote that’s crucial for the Mittens if he is to have any chance at the Republican nomination in 2012. Look for a lot of establishment love for Huntsman during the next several days as he effectively becomes their latest ”Mitch Daniels”. This, combined with the dismal preformance by Romney’s federal PAC, and one has to conclude that today was not a good day for Team Mitt.
Still, it’s not all hard-knocks from the right—Hot Air has something of a Huntsman defense against a hypocritically “furious” White House.
Open Secrets has gone back into its archive to present some evidence to support the “Huntsman is a moderate meme”; evidence which may come back to haunt him. Oh, and there’s a bit of history to show just how establishment Huntsman is, lending credence to Ezra Klein’s question.
The son of billionaire Jon Huntsman, Sr.—who Forbes ranks at the 937th richest person in the world—Huntsman was known as a moderate Republican governor, who earned conservative ire for accepting stimulus money from the Obama administration. He also supported reducing greenhouse gas emissions, immigration reform with a pathway for citizenship for some illegal immigrants and civil unions for gays and lesbians .
As OpenSecrets Blog previously reported, during the 2008 presidential election, Huntsman served as a bundler for Republican John McCain and raised more than $100,000 for the Arizona senator’s unsuccessful bid. The elder Huntsman and his wife have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to federal politicians and political committees over the years. The younger Huntsman, along with his wife, Mary Kaye, have been generous political donors in their own right though too. Since the 1992 election cycle, the Huntsman have donated $30,600, with all of that money has benefited Republicans.
That’s the kind of reporting we need to see first before we make any assessment about the chances of this potential candidate.
Of course, not all are damning Huntsman—Politico, which broke the news, said, “Huntsman boasts the most foreign policy experience of any of the likely GOP candidates, and would be a formidable entry to the unformed GOP field.”
While it makes for interesting lunchtime reading to ponder the many minefields a possible Hunstman run would face, we’re yet to see a) whether he’s running, b) how he will run, c) who he will run against, and d) what the public will think of him—I haven’t seen him listed in many polls. At this time, talk of Huntsman’s chances, and his effect on the race, are as speculative as talk of his run.
Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.
Tags: 2012, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Obama, White House