Jon Huntsman’s Potentially Potent Presidential Candidacy

Jon Huntsman

Bookmark and ShareRepublicans considering a run for President are slow to make anything official. Each one is eyeing what the others are doing. With the exception of Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Gary Johnson, Fred Karger, Herman Cain, and even Rick Santorum, more than a dozen others are considering how the possible candidacies of people like Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels, could effect their own chances and holding off a decision until they know who will or wont be in the race.

A handful of others like South Dakota Senator John Thune, and Texas Governor Rick Perry are waiting till all the dust settles in an attempt to see if the field finally assembled contains a solid candidate that has a real shot of beating President Obama. If no such clear fronrunner appears, they could be banking on shifting the focus to them with a late entry into the race. One name that fits into this category and could throw a monkey wrench into the plans of everyone else is Jon Huntsman.

The former Utah Governor turned Ambassador to China is a deep pocketed statesman with an ability to hammer together an attractive campaign and the resources to finance it. He brings to the table a level of experience that few others in the emerging GOP field can attest to.

Some figures like Mitt Romney have been traveling abroad trying to enhance their foreign policy credentials. Sarah Palin is planning a trip toIsrael in the near future. Others like Haley Barbour have been highlighting his state’s negotiations which have attracted foreign corporations to set up shop in Mississippi. But John Huntsman need not work hard at trying to pump up his foreign affairs experience. Not only is he currently the diplomat charged with maintaining relations with China, one of the most important and consequential players on the international stage, under President George W. Bush, he was the ambassador to Singapore and before that, under President George H. W. Bush, he was a U.S. trade representative specializing in Asia.

These three experiences help provide Huntsman with almost unsurpassable credentials in a number of critical foreign matters. In the eyes of many, including President Obama who called upon him to be Ambassador, Huntsman is considered the single most knowledgeable public figure on China in the nation. Such knowledge can make him uniquely capable of positive global influence. Think that is an overstatement? If you understand that the United States and China are the world’s two greatest economies, have the world’s two largest militaries and are the world’s two largest energy and carbon users, you can begin to see that Huntsman’s experience, knowledge and Asian relationships do indeed afford him the opportunity to address challenges that have global impact.

In addition to having some very close ties to, and intimate knowledge of, an area of the world where China plays a critical role in regional stability among imp[ortant players such as Japan, and North and South Korea, as a former trade representative to the region, Huntsman also has invaluable experience and knowledge in an area of great economic importance to the United States. The burgeoning Asian markets offer the U.S. a challenge that we must meet. In 2008, Mitt Romney’s campaigned on the issue. He consistently stressed the importance of insuring that we remain competitive enough to tap into the fast growing Asian markets and economy. If anyone has a leg up on this issue of great economic importance, it is Jon Huntsman.

But moving off the International stage and in to the domestic arena, here too Jon Huntsman has accrued a record that demonstrates an ability to effectively address the problems and hot button issues that we face here at home.

During his four and a half years as Governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman establisheda reputation as the nation’s most popular governor. Almost a year after winning reelection to a second term, and accepting President Obama’s appointment as Ambassador to China, Huntsman left office with a remarkable 86% approval rating. Even Democrats were sad to see him leave office. On his last day in office, David Litvack, Utah’s Democrat House Minority Leader, said of Huntsman, “I think it’s a day that is, in some respects, very solemn, Litvak added, “To lose a type of leader like Gov. Huntsman, even as he goes on to great things in his new position, is definitely a loss for the state of Utah.”

In just the first two years in office, Huntsman had already achieved major tax reform, reduced the state’s sales tax on food and brought about a reduction in the income tax rate toa mere5 percent. Other significant accomplishments included a focus on economic development by recruiting new business and talent to Utah while also growing those businesses that already existed. This led to a booming economy. The Governor also turned Utah into a state with a booming tourism industry. In the area of education Huntsman produced record levels of funding that were used to provide future generations with an education that emphasized early learning and training in growing industries like engineering and technology.

Putting together Huntsman’s pro-business and low tax record, with his trade and foreign affairs experience, as well as his ability to appeal to Democrats and the fact that he can claim a certain level of bi-partisanship as a Republican playing an important role in a Democrat Administration, and what you have is a candidate who is well positioned to run a campaign that could appeal to much of the American electorate. Indeed many conclude that President Obama tapped Huntsman to be the envoy to China in an attempt to avoid having to run for reelection against him in 2012.

But if Jon Huntsman chooses to take a ride down the road to the White House, he will find that the first few miles will be quite bumpy. While Huntsman could do well in a head to head match up with the President, getting to that point by winning the Republican nomination may not be that easy.

While the former Governor remains popular in his state and even has him beating long serving Utah Senator Orin Hatch in a hypothetical primary, he has taken some positions which even Utah Republican are uncomfortable with. Shortly after he announced that he would not be seeking a third term as Governor, he came out in support of civil unions, something he opposed when he first ran for Governor in 2004. He also came out in support of measures that allowed two unmarried, co-habiting adults to sign joint-support declarations to gain inheritance rights and medical-decision makinrights for one another. In addition to that, Huntsman lent his backing to a bill that outlawed employment and housing discrimination for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.

Of course the rise of the TEA Party movement could possibly help Huntsman here. For the most part, the TEA Party movement is less concerned with bedroom issues and more concerned with getting the government out of the bedroom. If Huntsman can tap into such support from an infusion of TEA Party voters in Republican primaries and caucuses, he could benefit by offsetting the segment focused on the controversial issues of gay marriage and rights.

Interestingly, aside from his change of mind on alternative lifestyle issues, Huntsman has claimed for the record, that the GOP needs to moderate its positions on not only gay rights but immigration and the environment as well. He claims that if the Republican Party intends on attracting young people and remaining viable in the long term, this is a must.

This could be a hurdle hard for Huntsman to overcome among the religious right base of the Party, especially in early nomination contest like Iowa and South Carolina, where the evangelical vote is disproportionately influential. And a failure to oppose any cap-and-trade-like environmental policies or a refusal to take a hard-line position on securing the border, could be the death knell of his candidacy among even more moderate Republicans

To a degree, some of Huntsman’s positions on things such as gay marriage, could be seen as somewhat Libertarian based, a factor that if he doesn’t go too far to the left on immigration and the environment, could make him one of the few mainstream candidates with the ability to appeal to that base and draw some votes away from possible bottom tier candidates like former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

But then there is still one more problem that Huntsman may encounter. It is the same one that Mitt Romney continues to have to deal with. Both are Mormons. In addition to having to deal with apprehension over his religion by a segment of voters mainly within the South, there is the risk of Romney and Huntsman splitting the tight knit Mormon vote in places like Utah and Nevada, where the Mormon vote is significant.

All things considered, a Huntsman candidacy would be potent and if it comes to fruition, it will have a profound effect on the race for the Republican presidential nomination. If he were to run, he would be formidable and even though he would face some tough challenges, competing against him will be equally as challenging for his rivals. Huntsman is warm, articulate, impressive, cordial and extremelycharming. Put it all together and what you have is someone who can not be easily written off.

Right now the big question is whether or not we will be hearing news of Huntsman’s resignation as Ambassador to China. Without one of those within the next 2 to 4 months, the growing field of potential Republican candidates, and President Obama, can take a sigh of relief.

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4 Responses

  1. What indication is there that Huntsman is considering a run?

    He looks interesting, but I agree with your assessment — Huntsmans problem, like that of most candidates, will be to build any significant support at all. He seems fairly moderate overall, but the moderate mainstream of the GOP tends to go with who they know (for 2012, that would be Romney). I doubt hell get much libertarian support based on civil unions libertarians are mostly attracted by strict fiscal conservatism and small government positions across the board. (Where was he on Iraq and the bailouts?)

    I would love for issues like civil unions and the environment to be discussed during the campaign, because it will show that the wider electorate, lacking a Democrat Primary, is participating in the GOP Primary.

    • In a recent interview with Newsweek, Ambassador Huntsman hinted about a run when he stated that he thinks he is preapred for one more run. In addition to that some close allies of Huntsman have confirmed that he recently met with them to discuss the idea and that they are ready to put a campaign together with moments notice.

      As for what Libertarians are fired up about, while I am aware of their priorities being those concernedwith fiscal policy, I am also keenly aware of a large segment of the Libertarain base which is also fired up about government’s role in our lives, including the isssue of marraige and personal liberty. Another major concern of a significant portion of their Party is the active role the U.S. plays on the international stage and our foreign entanglements.

      For this reason, I am sure that on the issue of gay marriage,Huntsman’s stance will have a degree of appeal to some Libertarians. Ultimately though, I a do think that Huntsman may be to moderate on other issues for them and possible even the base of the GOP. As for his position on Iraq and Afghanistan, I am unsure of what they were or are and regarding the bailouts, there too, I have yet to discover where he stood.

      On the topic of familiarity and moderate Republicans, Mitt Romney is actually a bit more conservative than some may believe. As for familiarity with him, the fact that many are familiar with similiarities between his helatcare plan in Massachusetts and Obamacare, is hurting, not helping Romney. So I think in this case, the familiarity that that broader electorate has with Romney, is not working in his favor at the moment and is the sole reason why despite aggressive ongoing campaigning and organizational buildup, he is still not yet the clear frontrunner. I like Romney very much and supported him for the nomination in 2008. This time I could still support with him with confidence but have a preference for Mitch Daniesl who I think has less baggage than Romney. I am however keeping my mind open to several possible candidates who I believe could make excellent presidents. For my part, I want all them to prove themselves and earn my support. So I am looking forward to their campaigns and the debate, because it is during that debate that I will make up mind.

      • Thank you for your excellent reply (and your great website!). My experience with Ron Paul folks is that they are divided on abortion. I cant recall hearing any RP supporter even mention civil unions. Youre right, personal freedom is a significant issue to them (they talk about ending the war on drugs and the TSA), but the strict libertarian position on marriage is to get the government out of it altogether. My hunch is that the number of Republicans voting on civil unions (except to vote against them) is very very small. But as I suggested, this is all open to revision depending on what the GOP primary electorate looks like.

        Romney is likely to be the nominee simply because he is a proven and respected leader who will be many peoples second choice when their favorite doesnt work out. Hes also next in line. 😉 I like everything Ive heard about Daniels. His close association with Bushs economic policy seems to be his only real handicap but its probably more of a general election handicap.

        Im most enthusiastic about Gary Johnson. Hes the only candidate who really seems aware of the need for spending cuts and has the record to show he means business. He embodies tea party priorities, but manages to express them with a manner that comes across as practical and non-partisan. Hes clearly a dark horse, but Johnson has a vision that we desperately need guiding our country right now.

  2. […] pointed out in a previous White House 2012 post, Jon Huntsman could run a very potent campaign. But it all depends on who else is running in 2012 […]

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