Word is leaking out that Jon Hunstman, Jr. is resigning his post as Ambassador to China and will begin exploring a run for the Presidency. President Obama sent him to China, most observers believe, to avoid just that scenario. But it apparently has backfired. Hunstman got two years in probably the most important diplomatic post there is, other than SoS, which he can now add to his resume along with his other foreign policy and domestic experience.
Can Huntsman make it? He’s a long shot, but then everyone on the GOP side is a long shot. Here are some reasons why the Obama administration tried to stash him in China:
- He will have an uphill battle in the primary, but he would make a formidable general election candidate, which is why Axelrod and the boys have been so scared of him. Obama can only be defeated by someone who can peel off significant numbers of voters in the middle. Is a Huckabee or a Palin going to do that? No chance. They would alienate more than they would attract. Romney might, but he’s seen as a flip-flopper, disingenuous, and an opportunist.
- He is a moderate but is actually solidly conservative on many issues. He has been a solid free trader, fiscal conservative, and advocate of efficient government (under his administration in the Utah Governor’s mansion, Utah developed the reputation as one of the most well-run states). He is pro life. He doesn’t have any significant black marks or missteps that are going to galvanize significant opposition from mainline conservatives. He is moderate on issues like education, the environment and health care–meaning he will appeal to moderates without alienating conservatives. He has a genuine soft spot for policies that affect kids, which is what has motivated his stances on education and health care. In a general election, he would have all kinds of Democrats and independents coming forward testifying how he is someone they can work with.
- In Utah he pushed hard for and implemented a health insurance exchange that everyone around the country is looking to (it hasn’t yet proven itself, but is intriguing). It is a pro-market approach with no mandates and is widely seen as the free market version of the Massachusetts model (though they share some similarities).
- He is a skilled businessman and manager who comes from an enormously wealthy family. The business community would easily rally around Hunstman, probably as much as Romney. He will have no trouble financing a serious campaign.
- He can win in New Hampshire. He supported McCain early and prominently, even though most Republicans in his state were backing Romney. I always thought this was a shrewd political calculation. McCain will help him in NH, and he will help himself.
- Almost no one dislikes him. He is very handsome, smart and articulate. He has one of those Boehneresque perma-tans, but his looks natural, like he got it skiing on the slopes, rather than baking in the tanning salon. He has that same Presidential look straight out of Central Casting that Romney does, without the baggage (believe me, not all Mormon politicians are as good looking as these two). When he left office to become Ambassador, there was a poll that showed him with 88% approval among Republicans and 96% among Democrats! Many on the hard right were not fans, but no one would dare say so publicly. It would be like dissing the Prom King that everyone at school gets along with. Being the candidate no one dislikes can go a long way in politics, particularly if you have a lot of money.
He has to overcome a low initial name recognition and the sometimes virile anti-Mormon sentiment among the evangelical wing of the party, but I’m sensing that social issues aren’t going to be as important in the primary as economic ones. The big concern among Republicans is that the Tea Party forces might drive the party to select an unelectable candidate. That is a non-trivial possibility.
So, if you start hearing more and more about Huntsman, don’t be surprised. The mainstream media will be looking desparately to find a negative tag line to go with him, but they will have a hard time making it stick.