Despite our longstanding support for a Jon Huntsman candidacy, even we are amazed by his uncanny sense of timing and find the buzz that is being generated by this non-campaign to be remarkable. The will he/won’t he stories that are being written on a daily basis provide the silent (until April 30, anyway) Huntsman a bevy of free publicity -even before he has officially entered the fray. Without saying a word he has sparked rampant speculation about his political future. And the political world, especially the GOP, is waiting with bated breath for one more week when his term as Ambassador to China is complete. In our opinion his timing just might be impeccable.
Hindsight is 20/20, but in May of 2009 Jon Huntsman may have understood that removing himself from the domestic political landscape to accept an ambassadorship half a world away would not harm any presidential ambitions he may have had. In fact, in all likelihood, this great distance has helped him. He may have intuitively sensed the rise of the Tea Party as a force on the right; a force that would break hard right and take several prospective GOP candidates with it. He has been able to escape the 2010 midterm election and is free from potentially embarrassing endorsements of weak candidates. For better or for worse, Jon Huntsman’s post 7,000 miles away from the Christine O’Donnells and Sharron Angles of the world has guaranteed that he can not be tainted by any association with the movement.
From his office in Beijing he has been able to watch events unfold in America for the past two years and formulate his opinions about them without being asked for comment by the American media. He has been able to observe what works, and what doesn’t without having to take sides; what plays well, and what doesn’t. Perhaps most importantly it has allowed him to remain out of the fray while waiting for conditions to ripen before making his return.
Since the midterm elections he has seen President Obama’s approval ratings and poll numbers drop precipitously, even among Democrats. This alone means the 2012 election poses a good opportunity for the GOP to take back the White House. At the same time, however, the list of confirmed candidates on the Republican side of the ballot has been uninspiring at best. In this field the two candidates that are returning from the 2008 election, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have 9 and 8 percent enthusiasm ratings respectively. While 57 percent of GOP voters are not enthusiastic about anybody. All together these numbers are not only indicative of a weak field, they signal that the electorate is ready for a fresh face. And since Jon Huntsman is currently unknown among 90% of those polled, it appears as though the conditions are now right for Huntsman to return and introduce himself to the American public. A public which, by the way, is more concerned about fiscal issues than social issues.
As we are only too happy to repeat, Jon Huntsman has a record as Governor of Utah that may leave other GOP prospects envious. With Huntsman at the helm Utah was ranked number 2 in a list of top states for economic development. Forbes magazine ranked Utah at or near the top of their list for Best States For Business during Huntsman’s terms, leaving behind policies that would eventually lead to a number 1 ranking in 2010. In 2007 Huntsman orchestrated the largest tax cut in Utah’s history as part of a major tax reform package. He did this while increasing public education funding by a record $440 million, as well as guaranteeing teachers a $2,500 pay raise next school year with an additional one-time bonus of $1,000.” And he did all of this before the Tea Party even existed.
Fiscal credentials, lack of social conservative baggage, a history of bipartisanship, executive experience, and more foreign policy experience than the rest of the field combined. Sounds like a recipe for a successful candidate, right? His potential opponents, especially the current occupant of the White House, seem to think so. Political operatives are already trying to poison the well of GOP voters by criticizing Huntsman for daring to work for the Obama administration. They are hopeful that this “guilt by association” will turn off voters to the idea of candidate Huntsman before he has even left Beijing. The White House undoubtedly realizes this, as Barack Obama has gone out of his way to praise Huntsman’s work for him. And just this month an e-mail was leaked (almost certainly by the White House) in which Huntsman praises his new boss, President Obama. Many right-wing pundits have already taken the President’s bait and are dismissing Huntsman before he has even had a chance to respond. But as his opponents tip their hands as to their preferred method of attack, though, Jon Huntsman has been able to sit back and plan his counter argument.
The impact of Jon Huntsman’s separation from the American media can not be overstated.
The brilliance of Huntsman’s situation, and of his timing, is that nobody knows what he is going to say. As a sitting ambassador he is not allowed to comment on any future plans that he may have. Contrast that with Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty who were veritable locks to run in 2012 as soon as the last vote in the 2008 election was counted. We know what plans candidate Romney or candidate Pawlenty have for the nation -they have told us for the past two and a half years and continue to tell us in stump speeches on a daily basis. Jon Huntsman, on the other hand, has been left alone. He has had the opportunity to develop a complete platform that nobody has heard yet, giving him maximum bang for the buck when he arrives on the scene.
But Jon Huntsman has one more card he can play that none of the other candidates possess. China. As the leading economy in the world and holder of the largest portion of US debt, relations with China will be even more critical as the decade goes on. And if many economists are to be believed, Jon Huntsman may be demonstrating his uncanny knack for timing with his decision to leave as China may be facing their own economic crisis in the coming years. But should that come to pass, who better to manage relations with our most important financial counterpart than a man who had an extremely successful term as ambassador to that same country? We believe that there is no one more knowledgeable on this topic than Jon Huntsman (and that includes the President).
Of course this is all just speculation until Jon Huntsman’s term as Ambassador to China ends on April 30. But we believe that if Jon Huntsman thought that Barack Obama would safely win a second term; if he did not think that U.S. voters were ready for a center-right candidate with a strong fiscally conservative record; if he did not think that the conditions were perfect for him to return; well, we think he would have decided to stay in China. While we do not know what is going to happen next week we very much look forward to seeing if his uncanny sense of timing might just carry him all the way to the White House.