Diplomat-Turned-Candidate Huntsman Responds to 'Loyalty' Attacks

Denies he was plotting to run against Obama while he was serving him in China

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Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is good-looking and rich and Republican and does super chill things like ride motorcycles and play in bands, and there have been hints of a 2012 campaign. Sure, he took a job serving President Obama as ambassador to China, but that's easily explained--"Serve [America], if asked," he said in a commencement speech--and besides, some have argued that foreign policy experience could make a great selling point. But Huntsman's diplomatic post is drawing more blowback that perhaps he expected, with prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson of Red State writing he could never vote for Huntsman--not because he served a Democrat, but because he decided to run against the president he was still serving.

"The reason I will never, ever support Jon Huntsman is simple: While serving as the United States ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the president of the United States," Erickson wrote. "This calls into question his loyalty not just to the president of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition."

After some bloggy back-and-forth from Huntsman supporters--Tuesday one snippily wrote to Politico's Ben Smith that it's "Ironic that someone who suggested sending President Obama to the death panel is calling someone else disloyal to the President"--Huntsman himself addressed Erickson's comments at a Florida campaign stop. In Beijing, "there was no gearing up for a campaign, whatsoever," Huntsman said, according to St. Petersburg Times' Adam C. Smith. Huntsman insisted that an organization was built stateside without any input from him. Pointing to campaign staffers, he continued, "I didn't even know these people. ... I did not know them until I got off the plane. … These are all new friends."

But the White House, at least, was wary of Huntsman's potential campaign activity while he was still serving in China, The Daily Beast's McKay Coppins reports. In January, a Newsweek story about Huntsman triggered the suspicion, and once Huntsman handed in his resignation, "it was tense," an official who's not a political appointee told Coppins. The administration "began micromanaging Huntsman’s schedule, canceling media appearances and carefully vetting his public remarks," Coppins writes. Huntsman chaffed under the scrutiny, upset that his commitment to the job was being questioned.

A "Huntsman supporter" quoted by Coppins responded angrily to such questioning that "Governor Huntsman's tenure in China has received nothing but plaudits from former ambassadors, China experts, the business community, and human-rights advocates." But his politicking might have had a real diplomatic effect: Russell Moses, a Beijing-based political analyst, says, "There may have been some in Chinese policymaking circles who thought they could split Washington and take advantage of what they thought was a disconnect in American policy toward China." And Guo Xiangang, vice president of the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, said Huntsman's speech decrying China's human rights record was aimed toward "the electing populace" in the U.S. Another expert in China said Huntsman's officially accidental appearance at a pro-democracy rally was meant to please Americans. Whether any of it pleased Republicans, however, remains to be seen.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.