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.”