Jon Huntsman 2012?

Jon Huntsman is running for president. Who the hell is Jon Huntsman, you say?

WaPo’s Chris Cillizza reports, “U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) appears to be leaning toward a run for president in 2012 and a team of political operatives and fundraisers have begun informal talks and outreach to ensure he could rapidly ramp up if he decides to run.”

When I first saw this news, via Taegan Goddard, my reaction was:   Who?

Granted, there has been minor speculation about a Huntsman presidential run the past couple of weeks but, seriously, I’d never heard of this guy before said speculation commenced.   And I pay a hell of a lot more attention to American politics — and, certainly, American foreign policy — than most citizens.

His resume is actually fairly impressive:  He’s a former two-term governor of Utah, albeit his second term barely commenced when he was appointed to his current post by President Obama.  Previously, he’d briefly served as ambassador to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush.   So, he’s got a solid background as an executive and yet has solid credentials in foreign affairs, too.

Can a guy with next to zero name recognition in the January before a presidential year contend for the White House?   I don’t know that it’s been done.   Jimmy Carter is probably the closest analogue in modern times.

Among his positives — aside from not being tainted by scandal, having failed in previous runs, or being widely considered an idiot — is that he comes from money.  He may not have the ordinary fundraising hurdles that would normally doom an unknown.

Among his negatives — aside from being unknown, of course — is that he’s a devout Mormon.   Recall that a poll from around this time last cycle showed that Americans are much more likely to elect a black man or a woman president than a Mormon.  The poll proved prescient, in that Mormon Mitt Romney crashed and burned whereas Barack Obama won the White House, having narrowly defeated Hillary Clinton in the primaries.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. wr says:

    And oh, there’s that other negative. How many Tea Partiers are going to cast their presidential vote for an official of the Obama administration?

  2. James Joyner says:

    wr: I don’t think the Tea Party will decide the nominee. They were able to exert much more influence in midterms, which have microscopic turnout. It’ll be harder in a presidential year. Plus, I think they’ll cancel each other out.

  3. Chad S says:

    If mildly supporting any Obama-backed bill gets you primaried out, working for the President in a big role is probably the kiss of death in the 12 GOP primary.

  4. PJ says:

    “Americans are much more likely to elect a black man or a woman president than a Mormon.”

    I think there’s a difference between generic Mormon and an actual Mormon, or a generic black man and a specific black man. I think Romney polled better than a generic Mormon, and Obama did certainly poll better than a generic black man. It’s the opposite of generic Republican, the generic candidate has flaws that the specific candidate doesn’t or voters no longer see them as important when judging a candidate. I wonder how a black female Mormon would poll though…

    About Huntsman, been following him for a while now and I still think he won’t run until 2016, only reason to run now is if he and his team feels that Obama will lose, since then he would have to wait until 2020.
    And to add to his resume, he also speaks Mandarin and Taiwanese (but if he’s elected President, he won’t be the first one who did that), with China emerging that and the time he spent in China will be a plus. That he worked for the Obama administration will be a problem, as wr points out, in 2012. I think it would be quite the opposite in 2016 though.

  5. Tano says:

    Really James – you a big foreign policy guy and you didn’t even know who our ambassador to China was? There was plenty of gossip at the time he was appointed that Obama was pulling off a masterstroke with the appointment – a very qualified guy, who also gave the new administration some bipartisan cred, plus eliminating a potentially dangerous 2012 competitor.

    I agree with wr and Chad here. Tea partiers, but beyond that, most any Republican would have a hard time voting for a guy who went to work for Obama.

  6. Tad says:

    I think James Fallows said it bebst a month ago when that Newsweek article came out; Huntsman is not going to run.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2011/01/oh-calm-down-huntsman-2012-dept/68737/

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Huntsman is an open border, free trader that supports expanding entitlements. Huntsman is nothing more than another Bush. Why would the Republicans want to go down that road again.

  8. Geek, Esq. says:

    1) He works for Barack Obama and is executing Obama’s China policy. How’s that gonna fly?

    2) He has endorsed cap and trade and accepts the science behind climate change.

    3) He has endorsed gay rights.

    Which constituency of the GOP is going to support him? The major effect would seem to be to split the Mormon vote with Mitt Romney in places like Nevada.

    Bonus point: If he’s contemplating trying to take down President Obama in an election, he really should resign his post yesterday. He has every right to run for office, but he can’t exercise his duties in good faith if he has an overriding motive to weaken and discredit his boss.

  9. PJ says:

    @James:
    “I don’t think the Tea Party will decide the nominee. They were able to exert much more influence in midterms, which have microscopic turnout. It’ll be harder in a presidential year.”

    In 2010, GOP turnout in the primaries were up, the highest percentage of eligible voters voted in the mid-term primaries since 1974. Turnout increased in 39 states, with record levels in 12.
    I wouldn’t count them out in 2010. I’d say it all depends if they have someone they can rally for (Palin), or against (Huntsman?).

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Here’s what I can add on Huntsman. I was involved in a documentary film on the relocation of a few hundred Katrina refugees to Salt Lake City. It was a great fish out of water story — particularly since the people involved didn’t hear about it until they were already on a Jet Blue flight en route.

    We looked long and hard for some controversy, and in particular at Mormon attitudes on race. And the guys (I was just involved from a distance) interviewed Huntsman once, maybe twice.

    We came away with the conclusion that Huntsman had been very much of a stand-up guy. He’s smart, mature, a Romney but with actual human DNA, he doesn’t seem to be an asshole, I assume he’s been a good ambassador to China since Obama still has him in the job. So he has zero chance of being nominated.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: As a general rule, I don’t know the names of our ambassadors. Or, frankly, our small state governors.

  12. Michael says:

    Jon “Generic” Huntsman, Republican for President. He’s the only one so far with a shot according to the polls. More likely, though, someone of the current crop of candidates will nab his as VP to strengthen their “not totally crazy” credentials.

  13. Trumwill says:

    PJ, if Huntsman wants to run in 2016, he should probably run in 2012 first. First-time runners rarely win the GOP nomination. Plus, it will neutralize the “worked for Obama” stigma by virtue of the fact that he ran to run against Obama. If he could just make a solid showing, it could place him well in 2016. Otherwise, his chances are as bad then as they are a year from now.

  14. Trumwill says:

    PJ,

    It seems to me that if Huntsman wants to run in 2016, he should probably run in 2012 first. First-time runners rarely win the GOP nomination. Plus, it will neutralize the “worked for Obama” stigma by virtue of the fact that he ran to run against Obama. If he could just make a solid showing, it could place him well in 2016. Otherwise, his chances are as bad then as they are a year from now.

  15. Trumwill says:

    Michael,

    I used to live in Huntsman’s neck of the woods and I agree with you. And truthfully, as far as Utah’s (far-right) policies go, he was a real voice of moderation. His chances of winning the nomination seem slight, though you never know without there being a prohibitive favorite. Also, he may not come out of any primary process the same guy he went in as.

    I am curious, though, what did you (or the people more directly involved) think of Utah and the attitudes on race and such? On the one hand, I found Mormons as a group to remarkably colorblind when it came to their LDS brethren. On the other hand, Mormons in that part of the country do not tend to be very warm to outsiders (even white, Christian ones). Parallel societies. A source of frustration and one of the reasons we left and never really looked back.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    Trumwill:

    Well, as I mentioned, I wasn’t there. I get the “story by” credit or some such thing. It’s my buddy Alex LeMay who directed. My contribution was limited to calling him up and saying, “Dude, this is a great story, you should get your cameras to Utah,” and offering occasional advice. The film is DESERT BAYOU. I think it’s on Netflix and was nominated for an NAACP award.

    Obviously when you do a doc you’d like some controversy, but we had to go with the truth. Which was that all things considered — aside from a few racist assholes and some miscues here and there — Utah did itself proud.

    Of course we absolutely loved SLC mayor Rocky Anderson. What a cool guy, and really not what outsiders would expect.

  17. john mcmenimon says:

    Jon huntsman has a heck of a resume. He is good looking, clean, talented, nice big family (including 2 adopted children). I think he could emerge as a serious choice for the moderate republicans. Mitt romney’s problem is his flip-flopping and thin skin. No one doubts that mitt has the resume, talent, and looks of a president. Republicans don’t know if mitt is truly conservative or a moderate like his father. Until he clears this up, mitt will scare off many republicans. Huntsman doesn’t seem to have this conflict.

  18. Michael says:

    I think he could emerge as a serious choice for the moderate republicans.

    Both of them?

  19. An Interested Party says:

    “Huntsman doesn’t seem to have this conflict.”

    Exactly…he appears moderate, which will scare off many more Republicans…

  20. Franklin says:

    superdestroyer: Huntsman is nothing more than another Bush.

    You guys still don’t actually know what was wrong with Bush, do you? Only a tiny part of it was his domestic spending habits.

  21. superdestroyer says:

    Franklin,

    Bush was too stupid to understand what his advisors were telling him and too weak to handle his staff. Huntsman strikes me as the same. He mixes his policies without any overarching philosophy. Huntsman is another niche issue politicians who does not understand that policies interact.

    Hunts is the son of a politicians who has zero ability to understand what his policies will do and would have zero concern for the middle class just like Bush.

    The left wants Huntsman because he is just as incompetent and foolish as Bush and could be rolled by the left whenever they want just like Bush.

  22. James says:

    I met Huntsman once and he was an incredibly sincere, capable man. I could see him making a superb president.