Why Not Huntsman?

TAP’s Jamelle Bouie captures “The Huntsman Dilemma” quite well:

[I]f I were Jon Huntsman, I would be furious with the current dynamics of the Republican primary. Compared to the likely nominee, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Huntsman is a far more reliable conservative. In addition to serving as the conservative governor of one of the nation’s most conservative states, Utah, Huntsman has been consistently conservative on most major issues. His heterodoxies, on climate change and civil unions, are far less egregious than Romney’s, and he doesn’t have Romney’s history of casually switching positions for narrow political gain. To borrow a line from Spencer Ackerman, Huntsman is the Coke Zero to Romney’s Pepsi Max.

Huntsman’s problem, aside from serving as the administration’s ambassador to China, is that he doesn’t seem to hate Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular. His rhetoric is of someone who disagrees with the president, but doesn’t doubt his commitment to improving the country. Unfortunately for Huntsman, this runs counter to nearly every bit of conservative rhetoric over the last three years. If the current GOP were a party which didn’t reward personal animus toward the president, then Huntsman would probably be in a much better position.

That’s exactly right. Having served as Obama’s ambassador to China on the grounds that one doesn’t turn down requests from one’s president to serve the country acknowledges that Obama is the president of the country, not simply the Democrat-in-Chief.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. It used to be the cases that crossing party lines to represent your country when the President asked was commonplace. The example that comes to mind is Wendell Wilkie acting as FDR’s personal ambassador on a tour of Europe after losing the 1940 election, but there have been plenty of others since then. I honestly can’t understand why the fact that Jon Huntsman agreed to serve as Ambassador to the largest country in the world, and one crucially important to our security and economic interests, is such a big deal for some Republicans.

  2. G.A.Phillips says:

    Huntsman’s problem, aside from serving as the administration’s ambassador to China, is that he doesn’t seem to hate Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular.

    Um….this sucks…..

  3. grumpy realist says:

    Plus the fact that he speaks Chinese…

    I remember when I was very young having a dream where all scientists had to hide and it was considered un-American to speak more than one language.

    Looks like the rabble of the Right wants to lead us to that country….

  4. @G.A.Phillips:

    People like you are the ones that make people think that all the GOP stands for is hate. And the reason Republicans are idiots at the moment.

  5. sam says:

    And right on cue comes our resident synecdoche for the Republican party.

  6. sam says:

    Oh, and GA, a synechdoche is not something for opening a beer can.

  7. G.A.Phillips says:

    People like me, make people like you…..who cares, you can’t tell the difference between hate or idiot, liberal of conservative, yet you sit upon a fence casting brainwashed judgements.

    I am not one of your 99% 20%er liberal fan club, but I was a fan….

    Sorry for interrupting your groupthink propaganda fest….

    peace out.

  8. PD Shaw says:

    Huntsman is simply not qualified to be the party’s standard bearer against an administration he was part of. It doesn’t make him disloyal or a bad person, but part of being the Presidential nominee of the challenging party is to lead the party against the party in power, to challenge their judgments and to provide contrast.

    When has a party nominated someone who served in the sitting President’s administration? That’s not Wilkie, Wilkie worked with Roosevelt after the election, not before.

  9. PD Shaw says:

    To put it another way, its very shrewd of Lincoln to bring Democrats like Andrew Johnson into administration. It was very shrewd of Obama to bring Huntsman onto the team. These are not very ambitious moves on the part of Johnson or Huntsman however.

  10. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Both are former governors. That’s a wash. Huntsman’s record as governor obviously is more conservative. Utah vs. Massachusetts is a no contest. Both are Mormons. That’s a wash. Both are Ivy Leaguers. That’s a wash. Romney was a big wheel on Wall Street. Huntsman’s father is a multi-billionaire. Both are telegenic and well spoken. Romney hovers around 25%. Huntsman is below the margin of error line. Even the likes of Bachmann and Cain and now Gingrich have experienced not-Romney boomlets. Not Huntsman, however. That can’t be explained by Huntsman’s foray to China. Also, let’s be blunt: A material percentage of the erstwhile GOP primary base wouldn’t know the ambassador to China from Chinese take out food.

    The explanation is the base instinct of the lowest common denominator of the GOP primary selectorate. When he entered the contest Huntsman declared point blank that he believes in evolution. Romney has avoided like the plague any discussion of religion. Hence the chasm-like dichotomy is their respective levels of support.

  11. Kylopod says:

    >When has a party nominated someone who served in the sitting President’s administration?

    When Ike began his presidential run in 1952, he was still serving as Supreme Allied Commander Europe under Truman, who was still in the race. Truman did soon drop out to be replaced by Adlai Stevenson, but for a brief period Ike was running to unseat his own boss.

  12. Kylopod says:

    Another example is Sargent Shriver, who was at one time Ambassador to France under Nixon, and in 1972 ran to unseat Nixon first as a presidential candidate and later as McGovern’s running mate.

  13. Eric Florack says:

    his serving under OBama isnt the only reason and you know it James

  14. Ron Beasley says:

    If Huntsman really wants to be president he should change his party affiliation to Democrat. The Democratic party has shifted far enough to the right that he might have a chance.

  15. Eric says:

    @Eric Florack:

    Then what is the reason? Huntsman appeals to liberals too much perhaps? If it has been proven that not only is Huntsman has consistently been more conservative than other candidates, but also that he has valuable experience as an ambassador, then why would the GOP not like him?
    None of the other candidates have done a job asked by President Obama and they probably would never accept an offer. Bachmann working for Obama? Not even in parallel universes. Santorum, Gingrich, Cain? Laughable. Romney? He’s too busy trying to get Obama’s job. Paul? Maybe he would accept an offer, but no one likes to pay attention to a populist like him.

  16. Chris says:

    I’m from Utah, I’m not Mormon, and I vote democratic. But I support John Huntsman more then any other candidate in the laughable GOP race, and I’d vote for him over Obama whom I voted for in 2008. The problem with Huntsman is he isn’t “politician” enough for the republican party. Frankly he makes sense, and his record stands for it’self. Look at Utah’s ranking on Forbes Best states for business and careers. We’ve been dominating! If you want a soundbite to repeat incessantly on fox news, or the usual pandering you hear from the “front runner” of the day, follow the flavor of the month club that is the GOP race. if you want economic results, and true foreign policy experience, look at Huntsman at the bottom of the stack. Sadly it’s hard to well substance to the republican base. If you look at a recent study by Fairleigh Dickinson University, Fox News viewers are more misinformed then people that don’t watch news at all. How can you sell them substance?

  17. superdestroyer says:

    The only people who seem to want Huntsman as the Republican nominee are progressives and liberals who would never vote for him in the general election. Thus, the people who write that they want him to succeed really just want the Republicans to fail more than they are already failing.

    Huntsman is stupid. Anyone who supports open borders and unlimited immigration does not want a conservative party to exist. Why should middle class private sector employed whites vote for a candidate who wants to demographically eliminate them from the U.S.

    Huntsman gives to much power to NYC/DC/LA opinion makers. He mouths all the right words (for the left) on global warming while purchasing a huge house in DC to go along with his multiple other home, cars, planes, and luxuries. In other words, Huntsman is not willing to make any sacrifices to lower his environmental footprint but is willing to support the government forcing others to make sacrifices.

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    Do you really think that any blacks in South Carolina or Hispanics in Nevada would ever vote for a white Mormon. Huntsman would have a chance in the Democratic Party is all of the voters in the Democratic Party were white. However, since a large percentage of the voters in the Democratic primaries are not whites, Huntsman would have zero chance of winning.

  19. Rick Almeida says:


    I live in South Carolina, and there is no doubt in my mind at all that Black voters would vote for a Mormon Democrat.

  20. bandit says:

    superdestroyer says:
    Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 06:14

    The only people who seem to want Huntsman as the Republican nominee are progressives and liberals who would never vote for him in the general election. Thus, the people who write that they want him to succeed really just want the Republicans to fail

    100% correct. Rule of politics and life in general – when someone tells you what you should do they really mean what’s best for them.

  21. Curtis says:

    @PD Shaw:

    I find it ironic that you ask the question of running against your former boss when your avatar is a picture of Lincoln. Lincoln ran for reelection against the George McClellan, who was the commanding general of all union forces if I am not mistaken.