Is Obama's Ambassador Gunning for His Job?

Newsweek says Jon Huntsman is "winking" at a 2012 presidential run

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When President Obama appointed Utah Governor Jon Huntsman to serve as U.S. ambassador to China in 2009, political strategists deemed it a cunning political move. Enlisting Hunstman, a fast-rising GOP star, would surely preclude him from launching a 2012 presidential bid. Or so they thought...

This week, Newsweek's McKay Coppins advances the notion that Huntsman will run in 2012. It's a highly speculative piece and some are already pouring cold water on it. Nevertheless, it relies on two reported moments. First, the interview Huntsman gives to Coppins.

"You know, I’m really focused on what we’re doing in our current position,” Huntsman says. “But we won’t do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones.” Coppins then presses him on 2012 and Huntsman "declines to comment." To Coppins that was a "winking response" or "about as close to a hat-in-ring announcement as you’ll get from a sitting member of the incumbent’s administration."

Secondly, Huntsman insiders tell Coppins that the former Utah governor has been meeting with "several former political advisers in Washington and Salt Lake City to discuss a potential [2012] campaign." And that's a wrap.

Obviously, Coppins isn't laying out enough facts to make an airtight case—but is his story plausible?

  • No: This Just Doesn't Make Sense, writes James Fallows at The Atlantic:
Political speculation is fun, and we do a lot of it (a) because so many weird things do happen, and (b) there's so little penalty for being proven wrong. But before Newsweek gave this such splashy display, they might have asked: does this pass the "are you kidding" test? To me, it does not...

Huntsman is part of the Obama administration. He is right in the middle of dealings with America's most important foreign-policy partner/challenge. So in the GOP Primaries, how exactly is he going to out-anti-Obama anyone else in the field, given that he has served Obama (and, yes, the country) so loyally? The retorts from all the other Republicans are almost too easy. "If Ambassssadorrr Huntsman is so concerned about the Obama threat to America, then why,...?"
Republicans know Barack Obama is vulnerable in ‘12, but they’ve got no one in their roster right now who can come close to doing the job. There’s an opening, with whoever it is that takes on Obama needing to be a heavyweight in order to win. Ambassador Huntsman fits that description, plus has the resume and stature that the gang of Tea Party politicians trying to grab for the lowest rung simply cannot match.
  • Still, You Can't Let a Good Headline Go to Waste, writes Matthew Yglesias at Think Progress:
“The Manchurian Candidate” is an excellent headline for an article about the hypothetical presidential campaign of an ambassador to China. So on those grounds alone I think you have to run with the story. Second, I do think that if you look at the history of Republican presidential nominees there’s something to be said for getting in the game and running even if the time isn’t right. Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and John McCain all ran and lost before they got the nomination.
  • This Would Be Tough for Huntsman to Pull Off, notes Michael Shear at The New York Times:
His path to the nomination is by no means certain. He would have to contend with Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, who – like Mr. Huntsman – is Mormon, and would likely try to tap into a similar network of supporters and donors. And the kind of argument that Mr. Huntsman would likely make to Republican voters is not dissimilar to the argument that would come from other Republican governors like Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota or Mike Huckabee of Arkansas or Mitch Daniels of Indiana: that he has the management experience necessary for the job.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.