Several friends in China have written to ask what I think of this Newsweek report that Jon Huntsman Jr., currently the US Ambassador to China, is planning to run for the GOP presidential nomination next year.
What I think is: Are you kidding?
Anything is possible in politics, so this could be too. But this is why it is wildly improbable.
Huntsman -- whom I have met several times over the years, in China and the US -- is indeed a very attractive long-term national prospect for the Republicans, whenever they have gotten to the other side of their current Palin/Limbaugh/ Gingrich phase. As I wrote at the time, I thought that Barack Obama's selection of him as ambassador in 2009 was a shrewd move for both sides. It was good for Obama, as a early token of bipartisanship (remember that?) and as a way to keep a future Republican star out of Iowa for a while. It was good for Huntsman, in giving that same potential star a way to stay out of the post-Palin fratricide (yes, he'd been governor of Utah -- but he is "soft" on gay rights, being in favor of civil unions etc) while bolstering his international-affairs reputation and experience. And it has been good for America (remember that?). Huntsman is fluent in Mandarin, from his days as an LDS missionary in Taiwan, and he has done well in China at both high-end and retail-level on-the-street diplomacy, the latter while biking around town with his young children, one of them originally from China. (That's her, Gracie Mei, with her father, in a photo from the US Consulate in Chengdu.)
So why doesn't this mean, "Huntsman 2012"? Let's start with the most obvious deal breaker. The basic narrative of the "out" party, when a first-term president is running for a second term, is "Your Administration is Wrecking Our Country! We can't stand Four More Years! We need a total change!" That is what every Republican will have to say about the Obama Administration.