'Romney-Lite': Jon Huntsman for President?

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Politico and ABC News' Jack Tapper are both reporting that the White House expects U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman to resign from his post in the spring to explore a possible 2012 presidential bid. While there's been speculation that the ambassador may potentially be gunning for Obama's job, the fact that Huntsman has "quite notably" not knocked down the rumors has only added fuel to observers who are sizing up what a bid could look like.

One notable observer? The President: "I couldn't be happier with the ambassador's service, and I'm sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future," Obama remarked at a press conference (via Politico) earlier in the month. "And I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."

Here's what pundits are saying about a Huntsman bid:

  • He Will Immediately Become a 'Serious Contender,' says National Journal's Jeremy P. Jacobs, who proceeds to detail the "obvious and significant hurdles" the potential candidate faces: "He's a moderate on some of the most hot-button issues in a Republican electorate--immigration, climate change and China, among them--nevermind the fact he served in the Obama administration. And he shares many of the same strengths (and weaknesses) as Romney, without the fundraising and organizational know-how--making a Huntsman campaign appear like Romney Lite."
  • 'White House Strategists May Have Been Too Clever' observes Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, about the White House pushing the ambassador toward resignation. "Few people had heard of Huntsman outside of Utah in 2009. While Huntsman had a good center-right record in the state, he had not done much to build himself into a national brand," Morrissey writes. "Since then, the political winds have blown far more favorably to conservatives within the GOP, which may have left Huntsman on the outside in any case. Now Hunstman has a much higher profile than he may otherwise have attained."
  • What Would a Huntsman Bid Look Like? Asks Brandon Kiser at The Right Sphere, before answering his own query. "Turns out, it would probably remind a lot of people of 2008, which in hindsight isn’t exactly Republicans’ favorite year. If you take a big piece of John McCain and throw it in a pot with some Mitt Romney, the finished product is Gov. Huntsman." Also: "When it comes to his similarities to 2008 runner-up Mitt Romney, Huntsman, like many in Utah is also Mormon and could potentially compete with Mitt for 'Mormon money.'"
  • A Case Study: Can Huntsman Go Toe-to-Toe With Romney in Utah? Answer: No, not yet, writes The Hill's Christian Heinze. "In the most recent polling of a Romney vs. Huntsman matchup in Utah, Romney won by 23%, and that, despite the fact Huntsman held an 84% approval rating at the time," Heinze observes. "My guess is that any Huntsman decision to run for president would be to raise his national profile in advance of a 2016 bid, when the political environment in the Republican party might be more welcoming to a moderate."
  • The Resignation-to-Be Is Non-News, but the fact that Huntsman hasn't laughed off a presidential bid gives The Atlantic's James Fallows pause. Here's what Fallows would like to see happen next:
For the nation's interest, and (in my view, but what do I know?) for Huntsman's--is for him clearly to put them to rest. Says that of course he's a Republican, and of course he'll support the GOP ticket in 2012. But he's doing the nation's business now in Beijing, and doesn't want to complicate that with all this political gossip. To me as armchair strategist, staying out of the 2012 fray would seem to save him a lot of heartache. Avoiding a primary fight in this bitter season, when he's fresh off Team Obama; and, if he survived that, avoiding a general election battle when--one assumes--the economic cycle should be improving. If that economic assumption is wrong, everything else changes. But if that were the case and Obama seemed gravely weakened, I am not sure that makes a moderate, rather than a red-meat conservative, the most likely Republican candidate.

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