Count me among those mystified by what appears to be a forthcoming presidential bid by Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah and current U.S. Ambassador to China--which is to say, current member in good standing of the Obama administration. While his standing may be slipping a bit, Huntsman, as others have pointed out, would seem to have a very difficult task ahead of him: explaining to GOP primary voters why they should support a guy who has loyally been serving a president they pretty much all despise. It won't make Huntsman's task any easier that he is considered a moderate on issues like the environment and gay rights.
All of which causes me to wonder if Huntsman really doesn't have his eye on 2016, not 2012, even if he runs. That was the original assumption when he agreed to join the Obama administration--that he'd gain valuable foreign policy experience and avoid having to confront a Democratic superstar in Barack Obama (that was the view two years ago, anyway). So why run in 2012 if the real goal is 2016? Because it often takes more than one try to win the nomination. Look at John McCain. Or Mitt Romney. Or even the sainted Ronald Reagan. It's probably even harder for a rookie to win it today than it was in Reagan's time, given the explosion of media, the unending and overwhelming scrutiny, and the resulting pressure on candidates. Presumably, Romney will be a better candidate this time around because he's had the experience of running once before. If Huntsman runs and loses in 2012, he'll probably be a better candidate in 2016, and the political climate might also be more favorable for him then.
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is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.