Former Utah governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has quit his post and will return to the States at the end of April to "position" himself for a run at the presidency. You can mark me down as a guy who thinks Huntsman has legit White House ambitions -- as a top-tier candidate, even. But in 2012? No, no: Jon Huntsman is making a mistake.
Conversant in both Mandarin and modernity, with a managerial background in both the public and private sector, Huntsman has been slowly building an enviable political portfolio. Like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, he projects the image of the optimistic technocrat. Unlike Romney, he's not saddled with having created Obamacare, nor is he known for Romney's opportunistic position-switching. And some of Huntsman's positions include (limited!) support for cap-and-trade policies and civil unions for the LGBT community. Yes, you read that right: as the governor of Utah and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Huntsman supported civil unions.
When Obama appointed Huntsman to his post in China, the media generally greeted the move as both smart on the merits and politically savvy -- Obama, by bringing Huntsman into the fold, was removing a potential electoral threat from the table. Of course, as Evan McMorris-Santoro points out, there was a reason that everyone thought that:
What made Huntsman such a threat in 2009? For one thing, he was a moderate. After the 2008 elections many thought the only way the GOP could mount a credible attack on Obama in 2012 was to run to the center on issues like the environment and gay rights. The ultra-conservative 2010 campaign and the scramble to the right by Obama's other potential 2012 rivals so far this year suggest that theory is on the outs these days, at least on the primary electorate level.
Huntsman is precisely the model of Republican presidential candidates that the typical Democrat could live with and maybe even like. Hell, when Aaron Sorkin imagines his dream Republican, he imagines John Huntsman -- a moderate with chops and sanity. Now ask yourself, do you see 2012 being a good year for Republicans who boast of being "moderate" or having "chops" and/or "sanity?" No, you do not. Huntsman is precisely the sort of guy the Tea Party describes as a "RINO" right before they shred up his hide in order to make Jack Links. (His entry into the race will do wonders for Romney, however.)
Chris Cillizza notes that Huntsman's "inner circle" draws heavily on Arizona Sen. John McCain's "inner circle" -- something that's neither going to put the fear of God into Obama's "inner circle" nor particularly endear Huntsman to the GOP rank-and-file.
It's funny: in a world where I imagined Obama succeeding in his reelection bid -- which would be no mean feat, by the way, as the economy continues to be terrible -- I imagined Huntsman making a strong bid for the White House in 2016. And I imagined all sorts of progressive blogger-types experiencing acute agita over the fact that Obama had helped Huntsman burnish his policy chops, his stature and his moderate reputation. That's not going to happen now! But the bottom line is that Huntsman's chances of winning the GOP nomination in 2012 are awfully low. Unless, of course, the political discourse takes a sudden and unexpected turn for the genial and sane!