Who is Jon Huntsman and why does President Obama keep saying he likes the guy? These are the questions that I asked a few months ago when a friend first mentioned Huntsman as a 2012 contender. Since then, most articles up until this week were mostly about his relationship with President Obama and compliments that Obama and his staff seemed to be going out of the way to make. This week, there have been several articles mentioning him
as one of the few serious contenders for the Republican nomination (along the likes of Romney, Daniels, and Pawlenty). While there are some who think
that the idea of Huntsman being the nominee is completely ridiculous, others
are not so quick to write him off-- at least as a very serious threat
to Mitt Romney's campaign.
Huntsman, a Mormon who lived in Taiwan for a time as a missionary, is the son of billionaire businessman Jon Huntsman, Sr. He was a staff assistant in Ronald Reagan's White House, a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce in George HW Bush's White House, and Deputy US Trade Representative in George W Bush's White House. The youngest ambassador in a century, he also served as Ambassador to Singapore. He was elected Governor of Utah in 2004, reelected in 2008 with 77% of the vote, and left office in 2009 with an 80% approval rating. Fluent in Mandarin, President Obama named Huntsman as his Ambassador to China-- a post which he will vacate at the end of the month. He has seven children, including one adopted from China and one adopted from India. He loves motocross and plays in a rock band.
A fiscal conservative who cut taxes and pushed for private sector answers to the healthcare problem, he has been criticized by the Cato Institute
for his spending policies (Cato has also praised him, ranking him the best of all 50 governors on tax policy). Like many in Utah and among the Mormon community, he tends to split with national Republicans on immigration policy. He also holds moderate stances on climate change, civil unions, and education-- previous support of his for the Bush/Obama stimulus packages and cap-and-trade will no doubt come to haunt him. However, he is one of the most successful politicians in pro-life issues and a firm supporter of gun rights. Vocally critical of Chinese human rights abuses, he supports proactive approaches to end North Korea's nuclear program; he is also a fervent supporter of Israel, having made several trips to that country.
It is not yet certain if he is actually planning to run for president in 2012; some suggest he is setting things up for 2016. If he does run, he will have the face two great difficulties-- name recognition and his moderate stances on some issues. Arguments against him based on his working in the Obama Administration are probably overblown and will be easily handled ("he was doing his duty to his country"). Some suggest that President Obama is concerned about a Huntsman candidacy
, with hints that Obama purposefully put him in China in order to get him out of the way. It's a possibility-- if Huntsman were to somehow survive the Republican primaries, he would no doubt stand a very real chance of easily defeating the President (and attracting some millennials and Latinos away from Obama in the process); I'm not sure that everything is that cynical, though. The fact that he is currently the only individual with foreign policy credentials eyeing the election likely puts him at least on a vice presidential short list. Regardless, no matter what Ambassador Huntsman's success, his entrance into the race would be a game-changer by most likely diminishing Romney's support enough for another candidate to gain an advantage in the primaries.