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20th May
written by Sean Noble

With Utah Governor Jon Huntsman on his way to China, I pontificated about the political brilliance of Barack Obama in a piece posted on The New Ledger. 

Here are a some excerpts.

His latest stroke of brilliance his is appointment of Gov. Jon Huntsman as Ambassador to China. Huntsman had begun to make noises about the possibility of running for President in 2012. He is one of the most popular governors in the nation. He was an early supporter of John McCain’s run for President (a major blow to fellow LDS member, Mitt Romney) and McCain could have easily turned his entire operation over to Huntsman, giving him instant national infrastructure reach. Huntsman also has piles and piles of money (by some measures more than Romney) to fund a serious operation for a presidential run.

All that came to a screeching halt when Obama tapped Huntsman for Ambassador to China. Yes, the argument can be made that Huntsman would have been ill-suited for the Republican primary process, but so was McCain, and he ended up the nominee. Huntsman would have put enormous counter-pressure on Romney because he would be better funded, “more” LDS (Huntsman is from Utah, not Massachusetts; he has not flip-flopped fundamental Republican positions), and none of the disadvantages of being a child of politics (his father has never admitted being “brainwashed” by the U.S. military).


Obama and his advisors have bought into the idea that if the Republican Party is going to survive and regain power that it needs to promote “moderate” leaders. It is why the Democrat talking point has been to claim that Rush Limbaugh is the head of the party. It is their calculation that a principled, conservative party is a dying breed. In Huntsman, Obama and his political advisors saw a real threat, a “big tent” Republican.

So Obama did what any good street-fighting Chicago pol would do — he co-opted his potential rival.


In short, Obama did himself a favor by appointing Huntsman as Ambassador to China. He took a potential opponent out of the mix, and got one of the most qualified people in the nation as Ambassador to China.


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  1. Zach

    I am completely unfamiliar with the foreign service, but how effectively does this appointment neutralize Huntsman especially with the growing importance of China on the world stage? Is there no way for him to still make headlines from abroad? Seems like with a good press secretary, a few articles published on sites like Politico, and the growing importance of China he could be in a great position to increase his credibility and profile as a national leader. Especially over the next 3 years.

  2. Margot

    Can you name any Ambassadors? I doubt very many people can…which is not good news for raising someone’s profile.

  3. IgNoble

    It is hard to run against someone if you just served on their team. That’s why most analysts see this as a smart near-term move by Obama and a smart 2016 move by Huntsman.

  4. AzRep

    Huntsman might yet get a Utah Senate seat, but that is as high as he is going to go, because he isn’t willing to get his hands dirty. The contrast with Romney is instructive. When Romney ran for Governor, he was a rich man’s son who had graduated #1 in his college class, finished near the top at Harvard business and law, built Bain Capital, saved Bain & Co., built Staples and saved the SLC olympics. When Huntsman ran for Governor, he had worked in the family business and held a couple of mid-tier bureucratic appointments, which he got after his family gave massive sums to the RNC.

    Their pursuit of the presidency follows a similar course. Romney goes out night after night for years and meets in small venues with the rank and file, some of whom make no secret that they hate his religion. Huntsman decides that is not for him and goes the easier “John McCain route”: trashing the party to the national press, so they will call him the future of the party.

    What he fails to get is that while many party activists hate McCain, his years as a POW makes him absolutely bullet proof to much of the rank and file. By contrast, Huntsman is basically a very privileged young man, publicly trashing a party that has been good to him and his family. That makes him more Meghan McCain than John.

    He has made a pragmatic calculation that the stimulus will work in the short term, Obama will be invincible in 2012, so he will make a show of bipartisanship and public service, while waiting for 2016. He and his people need to get real. Without 5 1/2 years as a POW to give him invincible street cred and a 20 year record on national issues like McCain, the party rank and file is not going to just let him trash them while the national press anoints him as their new leader. Right now, the smart Romney is on Romney. He is quietly collecting chits by backing future party leaders while Palin works on her book deal and Huckabee works on his TV show. Huntsman isn’t even on the radar.

  5. Zach

    John Bolton, Bill Richardson, Alan Keyes. Bolton is known because he was an ambassador when we suddenly needed to deal with the UN for the war on terrorism and Richardson continued a political career after serving. Alan Keyes, while I cannot agree with everything he says or does, has made waves since serving in the Foreign service.

    While I cannot name a lot of ambassadors, I can’t name all the governors or senators or US representatives, either. I am only aware of those from other states (or even districts) when they either screw up big time (Frank, Dodd, Spector, McCain) when they are campaigning for president, or when they make sure they are known.

    That said, I am not really in Huntsman’s corner, either. I do not think we are necessarily missing out on a lot if he does disappear. It just seems like an ambassadorship does not rule him out of presidencial politics.

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