This morning, President Obama announced that he intends to nominate Utah’s Republican Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. to be our Ambassador to China. Huntsman is a moderate Republican, at least by Utah’s standards, and he served as the Deputy Trade Representative under President George W. Bush and as Ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and he served as the national co-chairman of Sen. McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.
For Obama, this pick reinforces with the public his commitment to reach across the aisle and recruit Republicans into his administration. It also signals that Obama has put the campaign season behind him. Perhaps more significantly, it virtually removes Huntsman as a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.
For Huntsman, his acceptance of the nomination positions him as the post-partisan/pragmatic Republican version of Obama. Yes, he disagrees with Obama on many domestic issues, but he is supportive of the Obama foreign policy, at least in China. As for his possible candidacy for president, I am assuming that he recognized that raising money to compete with Mitt Romney, who also has deep ties to Utah and the Mormon community, would be difficult. (While he can certainly self-fund — his father is billionaire — he has not done so in previous races to a large degree, at least for the son of a billionaire.)
I also believe that Huntsman recognizes that the 2012 GOP nomination may not be worth having, given the popularity of Obama and his policies and the disarray and infighting which have characterized the GOP since Obama’s win last November. As a relatively young man — he’s 48 — he can serve as Ambassador to China and burnish his foreign policy and bi-partisan credentials for a run in 2016, when there will likely be no incumbent running, assuming Obama win’s re-election and Biden opts against running for president as 74 year old. At that point, Huntsman would be 55.
In my opinion, this decision by Obama to offer the post to Huntsman, and Huntsman’s decision to accept raises the stature of both men. Meanwhile, unless they come out with anything less than effusive praise for the Huntsman nomination, this just makes the rest of the Republican establishment — be it Dick Cheney, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Eric Cantor just look smaller than they already do.