Newsweek: Jon Huntsman, The Manchurian Candidate
I like what I’ve read about Huntsman. I hope he has enough political savvy to let the teabaggers and the wingnuts destroy each other in 2012 so he can make a clean run in 2016. I’d hate to see him run this next time around, given the Bad Crazy that has taken over the GOP:
The moderate Republican had once been considered a rising star in the GOP and a likely 2012 contender, with David Plouffe, Barack Obama’s campaign mastermind, even identifying Huntsman as the only Republican who made him “a wee bit queasy” about the next race. But speculation ended abruptly in 2009 when Obama tapped Huntsman for the ambassadorship. National pundits called the appointment a shrewd move by the White House to sideline a potential rival, and then promptly forgot about him—which is probably why last fall’s Beehive State buzz was drowned out on the national stage by the noise of the midterms.
Now, it appears, the ambassador is ready to make some noise of his own. Sitting in the echo-y living room of his new Washington home, Huntsman, a tall, lean man with silver hair and impeccable posture, pauses only briefly when faced with the question of presidential aspirations. “You know, I’m really focused on what we’re doing in our current position,” he says. “But we won’t do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones.” Asked whether he is prepared to rule out a run in 2012 (since it would require him to campaign against his current boss), he declines to comment.
The winking response—about as close to a hat-in-ring announcement as you’ll get from a sitting member of the incumbent’s administration—could just be a hollow cry for attention. But sources close to Huntsman (who requested anonymity to speak freely without his permission) say that during his December trip to the U.S., he met with several former political advisers in Washington and Salt Lake City to discuss a potential campaign. “I’m not saying he’s running,” says one supporter who has worked with him in the past. “But we’re a fire squad; if he says the word, we can get things going fast.” What’s more, Huntsman tells NEWSWEEK that when he accepted the ambassadorial appointment, he promised his family they would “come up for air” sometime in 2010 to decide how much longer they would stay in Beijing. “I’m not announcing anything at all,” he says. But he sure seems to be hinting.
The cable-news crowd will undoubtedly scoff at Huntsman’s prospects in a Republican primary. After a right-wing resurgence flooded Congress with Tea Party Republicans, the field doesn’t appear particularly inviting to a moderate Obama appointee. But an increasingly vocal segment of the GOP is worried that the conservative populism of 2010 is distracting the party from its more pressing priorities. “We may be confusing a clearing in the forest for being out of the woods,” says Republican strategist John Weaver, who notes young voters’ disapproval of some of the party’s social agenda. “There is a ticking demographic time bomb working against us, and if we don’t correct that problem very soon, we could wind up back where we were four years ago.” What the party needs now, argue supporters like Weaver, is a leader who can negotiate a treaty of sorts between the right-wing base and forward-thinking moderates. The GOP, in other words, needs an ambassador.