Former failed presidential candidate and US ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, recently voiced his support for Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for president, bringing his moderate seal of approval to The Donald’s quest to “Make American Great Again.”
“If he’s the nominee, I’m a Republican and I tend to gravitate towards whomever the nominee is,” Huntsman said in a stirring endorsement on a CNN political podcast. “I just happen to think that this go-round we have a very unusual possibility if he makes it that far. And I think the chances are better than 50-50 that he makes it to the finish line in terms of the nomination.”
The last time that Huntsman felt so confident in a presidential candidate it was Mitt Romney, who Huntsman endorsed after pulling out of the 2012 Republican presidential primary, right after winning third-place in New Hampshire.
So just what does Huntsman see in Trump?
“He’s strong on things like campaign finance reform and I think it’s going to take an extraordinarily unique leader to stand up and say that the way that we’re doing this on the campaign finance side is broken and we need to fix it,” Huntsman said, adding Trump is “right about bringing aboard a new generation of the best and the brightest and wiping out the old Washington establishment and the old Washington culture.”
“I’d love to see someone stand up who’s a total outsider and see if that can be done because I think it would actually be a pretty healthy thing,” he said.
During his run for president in 2012, Huntsman raised $4.1 million in the first weeks of his candidacy, contributing “less than half” of that sum himself. One of his biggest donors was his own dad, Jon Huntsman, Sr., who ended up donating $2 million to his campaign.
Huntsman expanded on his Trump endorsement in an interview in Poltico:
We’ve had enough intraparty fighting. Now’s the time to stitch together a winning coalition.
And it’s been clear almost from the beginning that Donald Trump has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters. … The ability to cut across traditional party boundaries — like ’80, ’92 and 2008 — will be key, and Trump is much better positioned to achieve that.
Huntsman has long been seen as a moderate Republican, who isn’t a total loony. He served as Ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011, and currently co-chairs the No Labels Organization, a centrist group which aims to work toward a policy agenda that enough Republican and Democratic law makers can hopefully embrace. So his endorsement of Trump, and belief that the controversial candidate will be able to appeal to moderates and Democrats has come as a surprise to many.
Presumably, Huntsman’s fellow China-hands are also a little perplexed. Trump, who has had a rocky, love-hate relationship (mostly hate) with the Middle Kingdom, said at a campaign rally in Indiana on Sunday that “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country, and that’s what they’re doing.”
Though, during his own run for president, Huntsman was careful to cast himself as no panda hugger. One day before he officially announced he was throwing his màozi into the ring, a picture of Huntsman together with the Dalai Lama from back in 2001 was posted to his campaign’s Facebook page. While he touted his China expertise, he also blamed the Chinese government for cyber attacks against the US and even said that Washington should be reaching out to the “internet generation” that will take China down.
Vice President Jon Huntsman?