U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) appears to be leaning toward a run for president in 2012 and a team of political operatives and fundraisers have begun informal talks and outreach to ensure he could rapidly ramp up if he decides to run. ~Chris Cillizza
This makes no more sense than it did three and a half weeks ago, but it seems that the Newsweek profile may not have been as silly and speculative as we all thought. As Cillizza’s post explains, “the breadth of the team that has formed to prepare for just such an eventuality suggests he is quite serious.” Looking at the list, we see that Huntsman’s inner circle is largely made up of old McCain, George W. Bush, and Jeb Bush advisors. If he were to run, Huntsman’s campaign is would be dominated by people with connections to the party establishment (such as it is), the Bush dynasty, and the part of the failed 2008 ticket that most conservatives loathe.
I suppose he can serve as the “competent, wealthy Mormon executive who is not Mitt Romney” candidate, but is there really high demand for such a candidate? If Romney is the candidate with a liability on health care, Huntsman has publicly supported cap-and-trade. This is a position that is generally far more unpopular with the general public, to say nothing of Republican primary voters.
What is Huntsman’s argument for a presidential bid? Presumably, Huntsman wouldn’t be foolish enough to run as the anti-Obama foreign policy candidate, since he can’t have that many serious disagreements with the administration as it regards policies in China and the surrounding region. Then again, Huntsman’s foreign policy experience is the one thing that clearly distinguishes him from the rest of the likely 2012 field. Of course, it is also the one thing that he won’t be able to use to any great advantage in the primaries. If he tries to run against Obama’s overall foreign policy, he won’t really have any credibility to do that, and if he attempts to distinguish himself from the leading candidates by staking out somewhat rational or sane foreign policy positions the other candidates will spend every debate tearing him apart as Obama’s man in Beijing. They will use every hawkish, democratist, and anti-Chinese platitude available to tar him as an appeaser, and it won’t matter what he has actually done during his time as ambassador.
One other glaring problem for Huntsman, as for many of the would-be Republican candidates this time around, is his obscurity. Outside of Utah and apart from a rather narrow set of people who follow Republican politics and foreign policy, Huntsman’s name recognition is horrible. One reason for this is that he vanished from the national scene and went to Beijing almost as soon as national reporters had started talking about him. James Joyner said that he had never heard of Huntsman before earlier this month, and James is a pretty well-informed person. If Huntsman is that unknown nationally, I would be amazed if he can catch up and become competitive with the well-established names among primary voters.