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Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, And Serving Your Country

One of the most interesting moments in this morning’s NBC debate came when Jon Huntsman brought up something that had occurred the night before in the ABC News Debate. In that debate, Mitt Romney openly and rather surprisingly harshly attacked Huntsman for accepting a position as Ambassador to China under President Obama:

Manchester, N.H. • Presidential candidate Mitt Romney slammed rival Jon Huntsman on Saturday for serving as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China, an uncharacteristic move for the former Massachusetts governor who has typically steered his zingers at Obama.

Romney, who has a solid lead in the New Hampshire polls, attacked Huntsman during the second-to-last debate before Tuesday’s primary after the ex-Utah governor touted his experience serving abroad and explained why starting a trade war with the country was dangerous.

“I’m sorry, governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China,” Romney said at the ABC News-Yahoo debate at Saint Anselm College. “The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward.”

Huntsman responded in Mandarin Chinese: “He doesn’t really understand the situation” and then continued on in English, “What he is calling for would lead to a trade war. It makes for easy talk and a nice applause line, but it’s far different from the reality in the U.S.-China relationship.”

Early on in this morning’s debate, Huntsman chose to bring the issue up again:

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman again defended his service as an ambassador to China in the Obama administration in a Sunday morning debate, saying that he put “country first” and that the criticism he has sustained reflected attitudes which divide the country.

“I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first,” Huntsman said in the NBC/Facebook debate from New Hampshire. “He criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They’re not asking who — what political affiliation the president is. I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first. And I think that’s important to them.”

(…)

Romney continued to criticize Huntsman when it was brought up again this morning.

“I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama’s agenda,” Romney said. “I think the decision to go and work for President Obama is one which you took. I don’t disrespect your decision to do that. I just think it’s most likely that the person who should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China.”

Huntsman then said that attitude was was U.S. was divided.

“This nation is divided… because of attitudes like that,” Huntsman said. “The American people are tired of the partisan division. They have had enough. There is no trust left among the American people and the institutions of power and among the American people and our elected officials. And I say, we’ve had enough, and we have to change our direction in terms of coming together as Americans first and foremost and finding solutions to our problems.”

Here’s the video:

Huntsman clearly seemed to have the a good portion of the audience on his side by the end of the exchange, but Romney was repeating a criticism that has come from conservatives virtually from the time that Huntsman’s name first started surfacing as a possible Presidential candidate. The very fact that Huntsman had accepted a position from Barack Obama, it seems, was enough for some people to cross him off their list notwithstanding the fact that he had been the successful two-term Governor of the most conservative state in the country.  The fact that he cut taxes, brought jobs to the state, and reformed health care without a mandate didn’t matter to these people. Huntsman had gone to work for the enemy, therefore he was persona non grata.

It is, as I’ve noted before, a rather shocking departure from the bipartisanship that we used to see when it came to foreign policy. After he lost the 1940 election, for example, Wendell Wilkie spent two years in a Europe at war as President Roosevelt’s personal ambassador. The fact that Wilkie was a Republican and Roosevelt a Democrat didn’t matter, Wilkie was serving his country. Similarly, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who had been Richard Nixon’s running mate in the 1960 Presidential election, served as Ambassador to Vietnam for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson from 1963 to 1967, and then Ambassador to West Germany under LBJ for the last year of his Presidency. Separate parties, former adversaries even, but working together for the good of the nation. There are plenty of other examples of this kind of bipartisanship on foreign policy peppered throughout American history that establish that Wilkie and Lodge weren’t doing something exceptional, rather something expected. As Huntsman has put it elsewhere, the President asks you to serve, you serve even if it means crossing party lines. There’s something admirable about that.

When did things change? Even recently, former Presidents Bush (41) and Clinton worked together on relief projects for the Indonesian tsumani, and were able to heal whatever wounds were left over from the 1992 election. Is it because Barack Obama is the President, then? Would Huntsman have been treated differently if he’d accepted an appointment from a President Hillary Clinton instead? As with so much else about the way c0nservatives have reacted to the Obama Presidency, I have to think that just might be part of it. Although I don’t think we should have any illusions about how the GOP would have reacted to a Clinton Presidency, not much differently is my guess.

Whatever the cause, though, it strikes me that this is a poisonous, ultimately destructive way to look at politics. Huntsman’s service in Beijing is something he should be complemented for, not the subject of condemnation. When the position of Ambassador to China was offered to him, he had just been re-elected with 78% of the vote. He could have stayed in Salt Lake City and quietly built up a political machine for a 2012 Presidential bid, raising money as he (correctly) points out Romney was doing during this period. Instead, he served his country. Isn’t that supposed to be a good thing?

Mitt Romney pandered to the worst part of the Republican base this weekend, I hope he’s proud of himself.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DRS says:

    McCain’s campaign manager in 2008 (Stephen Schmidt? Was that it?) had a good comment after the election in response to some reporter who said that Obama wasn’t his president: “Obama was not my candidate, but he is my president.” Probably means he’s unemployable this time out but still a refreshingly good attitude, especially at a time when he might have been bitter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. anjin-san says:

    Its worth noting how so many on the right condemn Huntsman for serving his county, yet so many prominent Republicans managed to avoid service during the Vietnam war.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 22 Thumb down 0

  3. Markey says:

    “Huntsman responded in Mandarin Chinese:”

    New video for an attack ad!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  4. grumpy realist says:

    So how far is Romney going to carry this? Is he going to fire all government employees who are non-Republican and replace them with people of his own party?

    Heck, that’ll really go over well at the Patent Office….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    Romney really needs to lock this up quickly. If he doesn’t he is going to have to pander so much to the right that he will become unelectable. Even then he’s going to have a problem with the Religious right. And it’s not just the Mormon thing – as Digby pointed out he really is out of touch with this group.

    Plus, he really proved last night that he isn’t in touch with the religious right base with his answer on birth control. He acted like it was insane to assume that anyone anywhere would like to ban it and didn’t seem to understand the connection between Griswold and Roe. And that’s just wrong. There’s a whole bunch of social conservatives for whom this is a priority of the first order and his dismissive attitude has to grate. Many of them believe that the pill is an “abortifacient” and believe it should be banned. Still other believe, as Rick Santorum does, that sex must be procreative regardless.

    Now, it’s true that the vast majority of Americans don’t agree with this and use birth control without any thoughts to these issues, but Mitt’s still trying to get the votes of the GOP base and I would think that was seen as a slap in the face — a disregard of their very serious beliefs on this issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  6. Linton says:

    I actually posted about this earlier today. There are some other examples of cross partisan appointments that are very relevant and more recent. Robert Gates was carried over from Dubya as Obama’s Defense Secretary and he managed to avoid strong criticism for serving a Democrat. I’m shocked Huntsman hasn’t mentioned that when this issue has been brought up.
    Ambassador to China has to be one of the, and I’ve heard some say the, most important ambassador position.

    Another similar example would be William Cohen as Defense Secretary under Clinton.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  7. anjin-san says:

    Ambassador to China has to be one of the, and I’ve heard some say the, most important ambassador position.

    Tea party types are saying Huntsman “loves China so much he should move there.” We are not really dealing with rational people here.

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  8. ponce says:

    Mitt Romney pandered to the worst part of the Republican base…

    Which part is that?

    It’s all rotten, right to the core.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  9. PJ says:

    Rather interesting that, so far, every example here of these kind of appointments has been Democrats appointing Republicans. Now, I’m not saying that the reserve never happened, the obviously example for that is Lincoln, but does anyone have any examples of it from the last 50-60 years?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. PJ says:

    reverse the v and s…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. jan says:

    I looked up the transcripts from which Romney’s comment was taken. In context, it was Huntsman who made a snide remark about Romney throwing a tariff onto China, which then provoked the slur back from Romney — more of tit for tat, than really going after Huntsman for his “service” to this country.

    HUNTSMAN: Listen, we have the most important relationship of the 21st Century with China. We’ve got to make it work. Of course we have challenges with them. We’ve had challenges for 40 years. It’s nonsense to think you can slap a tariff on China the first day that you’re in office, as Governor Romney would like to do.

    You’ve got to sit down and sort through the issues of trade like you do with North Korea, like you do with Iran, like you do with Burma, and Pakistan, and the South China Sea. They’re all interrelated. And to have a president who actually understands how that relationship works would serve the interests of the people in this country, from an economics standpoint and from a security standpoint.

    ROMNEY: I’m sorry, Governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China. The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward.

    My own view on the relationship with China is this, which is that China is stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our know-how, our brand names. They’re hacking into our computers, stealing information from not only corporate computers but from government computers. And they’re manipulating their currency.

    And for those who don’t understand the impact of that, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. And that is, if you hold down the value of your currency artificially, you make your products artificially low-priced and kill American jobs. That has happened here in this country.

    And if I’m president of the United States, I’m not going to continue to talk about how important China is and how we have to get along. And I believe those things. They’re very important. And we do have to get along. But I’m also going to tell the Chinese it’s time to stop. You have to play by the rules. I will not let you kill American jobs any longer.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 13

  12. PJ says:

    @PJ:

    but does anyone have any examples of it from the last 50-60 years?

    Lauro Cavazos, a Democrat, served under both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush as Secretary of Education.
    Jeane Kirkpatrick and Bill Bennett were both registered as Democrats when they started to serve under Ronald Reagan.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  13. PJ says:

    ROMNEY: I’m sorry, Governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China. The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward.

    Since the GOP’s main goal has been to make Obama a one term president, no matter the cost, I guess they see Huntsman as a fifth columnist.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. anjin-san says:

    it was Huntsman who made a snide remark about Romney throwing a tariff onto China,

    In what sense what Huntsman’s remark “snide”?

    And how exactly does questioning a policy choice excuse attacking someone for serving their country?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 0

  15. A voice from another precinct says:

    “This nation is divided… because of attitudes like that,” Huntsman said. “The American people are tired of the partisan division. They have had enough. There is no trust left among the American people and the institutions of power and among the American people and our elected officials. And I say, we’ve had enough, and we have to change our direction in terms of coming together as Americans first and foremost and finding solutions to our problems.”

    Statements such as that one should give Hunstman the votes of every thoughtful person in the country. Unfortunatly, just as in Adlai Stevenson’s time, he’ll need a majority.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  16. Septimius says:

    @pj:

    George W. Bush appointed Norm Mineta as Sec. of Transportation. He also kept George Tenet as CIA director.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  17. A voice from another precinct says:

    @anjin-san: You’re forgetting, this is Jan we’re talking about. Logic and reason have no place in her comments. Romney was attacked, and she defended him the best that she could.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  18. Linton says:

    @PJ:

    Nixon appointed Daniel Patrick Moynihan as Ambassador to India, and Moynihan had also been Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs in his administration.

    John Connally was Treasury Secretary for part of Nixon’s administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. Hey Norm says:

    A pathetic collection if ever there was one. I bask in the amusement. This farce cannot go on long enough for me. That members of the cult consider any of these men as serious general election candidates says terrible things about the cult.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  20. @PJ:

    Norm Mineta was in the cabinet of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. junyo says:

    I said from the outset that Republican primary voters had to collectively be the dumbest f’ckers on earth to reject Huntsman over his ambassadorship, and Democrats where smart to play it up. The GOP has let reflexive blind vitriol take the most electable general election GOP candidate all but off the table.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  22. sam says:

    Can we all agree (well, except for the perpetually confused jan) that, in the immortal words of Dr. Peter Venkman, this man has no dick.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. MBunge says:

    I think folks are being a little too naive over Huntsman and his time as ambassador. Can anyone think of an example of someone serving in the Presidential administration of another party and then trying to run for the Presidential nomination of his own party to oppose the very person under which he served? Can anyone think of someone who joined the administration of the other party, left it under good circumstances and then tried to seek political office of any kind? The whole crossing party lines thing has traditionally been something done when you’re ready to leave partisan politics behind in the first place.

    The idea that Republican primary voters aren’t supposed to care that Huntsman’s most recent job was working for the Democratic President the GOP is trying to defeat seems a little ridiculous.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. PD Shaw says:

    @MBunge: “Can anyone think of an example of someone serving in the Presidential administration of another party and then trying to run for the Presidential nomination of his own party to oppose the very person under which he served?”

    No, and I’ve asked this question several times at OTB, and with the cricket chirps I have to assume the answer is no.

    The first step in a Presidential run is to gain support within your party and convince your party that you are the party’s candidate who can best draw a contrast with the opposing administration. Huntsman cannot do this because of the choices he made.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  25. Nightrider says:

    @MBunge: George McClellan in 1864.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. PD Shaw says:

    @Nightrider:

    Jon Huntsman, a McClellan for our times.

    I don’t equate serving in the military with serving in the President’s administration.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. Nightrider says:

    I don’t think we want to debate whether there was a more important Presidential appointee at the time than McClellan’s post in leading the campaign of Lincoln’s most important policy.. But I don’t see much current relevance in the example — unless of course one wants to consider what can happen when half the country thinks of the other half as the enemy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. junyo says:

    @PD Shaw: And what quantifiable difference does the lack of precedent or the recent service under a POTUS from another party make? Did Huntsman conspire with the Chinese on secret Democratic party campaign strategy?

    Drawing a contrast doesn’t automatically mean you’ll look better by comparison, so that’s a rather simplistic criteria for candidate viability. The fact of being a successful chief executive who has a proven record of accomplishment and ability to guide both sides to consensus should, in a saner world, be more than contrast enough with the current administration. And Hutsman takes away an awful lot of the charges that will be thrown at the other GOP candidates. The Whitehouse’s strategy is to paint Republicans as obstructionist who put party politics over governance. Huntsman’s bulletproof against that charge. The Democrats will charge that Republicans are anti-science religious nutjobs. Huntsman’s bulletproof against that charge. That better healthcare requires government mandates. Huntsman proves that false.

    But instead what we’ll get is a matchup of Statist against Statist-lite.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. MBunge says:

    @junyo: “And what quantifiable difference does the lack of precedent or the recent service under a POTUS from another party make?”

    Because elections happen in the real world and not only in the theories tossed around in freshman poli-sci classes. The basic partisan fact is that Huntsman can’t strongly criticize Obama without having to explain why those criticisms weren’t enough to keep him from being a member of the Obama administration, thereby undercutting their weight and effectiveness. Even in a far less polarized environment with a less fanatic GOP, serving under a Democratic President and then immediately trying to win the GOP nomination to oppose that President would be a strange thing to do.

    Mike

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  30. junyo says:

    @MBunge: So you’re basically admitting that party politics should trumps patriotism.That we should we live in a world where people can’t agree to disagree, and where Americans can’t represent America’s long term interests unless a member of their party in in office. Exactly how far does that line extend? The military kills people to implement the President’s policy, so all current members of the military are forever prohibited from strongly criticizing that policy, correct? Presumably all civil servants and bureaucrats of whatever level. Any Republican that votes for any bill sponsored by a member of another party, or at least one that doesn’t oppose the sitting POTUS from an opposing party. So short of elected office, Republicans pretty much have to remove themselves from any form of governmental service when their party loses an election to maintain the right to ever criticize the way the government’s run, correct?

    that isn’t something out of a poli-sci class, that’s the real world. Lots of people disagree with the specifics of how the country is being run at any particular time. But that doesn’t mean that the country as a whole isn’t worth serving, or that the choice to do so is something to condemn. If there are specific criticisms of Huntsman’s actions or decision as an ambassador that would be substantive. But as it is, it’s just hyperpartisan BS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  31. PD Shaw says:

    @junyo: “And what quantifiable difference does the lack of precedent or the recent service under a POTUS from another party make?”

    I am largely in agreement with MBunge. Things that have never happened before tend to have long-term explanations that cannot be simply accounted for by momentary passions. In my view, its the reality of the political party process that one first has to build support from within the party.

    I have no problem with Huntsman accepting an ambassadorship; I don’t think he’s a traitor. He just placed himself in a position where no sane person would expect to win a party’s nomination.

    I do believe this notion that Huntsman is some sort of super patriot, performing something akin to military service to his country, does not bear much weight. When Huntsman declined to accept an ambassadorship to Indonesia, was he not a patriot? When he resigned as ambassador to China was he betraying the country? He’s not the indispensable man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  32. @MBunge: Please explain to me how Mr. Huntsman’s role as the ambassador to China is in any way related to his views on the President’s fiscal policies, or his insistence on, say, allowing civil unions and the like. The role he had in the administration does not seem to jibe with the most important criticisms that Huntsman has had.

    Now, if Huntsman had been, say, the director of the Fed, and wanted to criticize Obama’s fiscal policy, then we’d have a case.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0