Jon Huntsman with his daughter, Gracie Mei, adopted from China. [source]
That’s the big question that political pundits in the US of A have been asking over the last few days. It all began on Sunday when Newsweek published a report speculating that the former governor of Utah, and current US ambassador to China, would make a bid for the presidency in 2012 (that’s next year).
“You know, I’m really focused on what we’re doing in our current position,” says Huntsman to Newsweek. “But we won’t do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones.” When asked whether he was prepared to rule out a 2012 bid, he declined to comment. The response was described by Newsweek as “as close to a hat-in-ring announcement as you’ll get from a sitting member of the incumbent’s administration”.
Media outlets around the world soon began to contribute to the whirlwind of press hype, including those on this side of the Pacific. While the prospect of the ambassador deciding to run against his commander-in-chief Barack Obama to become the first President of the United States with magic underpants is all rather charming (he’d of course first have to slug it out with other Republican nominees, which will no doubt include a very popular Alaskan soccer mom), others have stepped in to provide some sense to the discussion.
Chief among those who have poo-pooed on the idea is James Fallows of The Atlantic, who has called it “wildly improbable”:
Let’s start with the most obvious deal breaker. The basic narrative of the “out” party, when a first-term president is running for a second term, is “Your Administration is Wrecking Our Country! We can’t stand Four More Years! We need a total change!” That is what every Republican will have to say about the Obama Administration.
Huntsman is part of the Obama Administration. He is right in the middle of dealings with America’s most important foreign-policy partner/challenge. So in the GOP Primaries, how exactly is he going to out-anti-Obama anyone else in the field, given that he has served Obama (and, yes, the country) so loyally? The retorts from all the other Republicans are almost too easy. “If Ambassssadorrr Huntsman is so concerned about the Obama threat to America, then why,…?”
And if he got through that process, he would run against his current commander-in-chief …. how? And why? What is the issue of principle so important that it compels him to challenge Obama’s continuation in office, but has not justified any disagreement while he’s serving now? “Huntsman 2016” would be a very logical inference from his current position. “Huntsman 2012” would require suspension of basic laws of politics and common sense.
The political posturing, says Fallows, is more for the big boys in Beijing, rather than the guys back home:
…there is nothing that will get the attention of the Zhongnanhai leadership like the idea that the mere ambassador they are humoring today could be back another day as a mighty American President. That vague future possibility is already built in with Huntsman, but this story, which Chinese officials won’t be sure they can dismiss, should concentrate their minds.
I’d love to think that Obama and Huntsman deliberately planted this rumor as a way of ramping up US diplomatic effectiveness in China. (After all, there was nothing in it hostile to Obama, which adds to the weirdness of the idea that Huntsman would soon be challenging his current boss.) But usually the explanation for events is more blunder-filled than that. I’ll write this off to holiday-weekend press hype — while hoping that, as my friend says, the commissars take it seriously and therefore take America’s representative all the more seriously too.
We’re inclined to agree with Fallows. Your thoughts? Share with us in the comment section below.