Jon Huntsman, the former two-term Utah governor, is formally announcing his presidential candidacy today. Why care about a politician many say can't make it past a GOP primary? Because he might be the only Republican candidate who can beat President Obama at his own game.
Huntsman is young and nationally untested, like another long-shot presidential hopeful in 2008. Both Huntsman and Obama are minorities that have been historically less influential within their party than others. But rather than responding by turning radical, both formed temperate political personalities. Both Obama and Huntsman are elegant orators, and both have embraced unifying governing styles. Huntsman appealed to a diverse political constituency in Utah. Republicans embraced his tax cuts and efficient management skills, which the Pew Center ranked the best in the nation. The governor also catered to left-leaning voters with his concern for economic investment and the environment (including climate change).
This is perhaps why senior Obama counselor David Plouffe said the president’s former ambassador to China makes him “a wee bit queasy.” Plouffe could see Huntsman as the Republican’s version of Obama, a candidate who possesses the brains, charisma, and vigor to ascend to the White House. Huntsman has a reputation as a shrewd diplomat, boasts an impressive knowledge of Asia and is fluent in Mandarin-Chinese. Moreover, he’s an excellent speaker, youthful and good-looking. To Plouffe, Huntsman is credible, both personally and politically.
Because Huntsman’s political personality and rise aren’t so dissimilar from Obama’s, I didn’t think he would run this cycle. The former governor seemed like a sure successor to Obama’s bipartisan temperament in 2016 and less likely to appeal to ardent conservative primary-goers in 2012.
But despite his more centrist leanings, Huntsman may be articulate enough to arouse his party’s support in primary contests. If you thought Obama’s meteoric rise to the nomination was “a fairy tale,” hold your judgment on Huntsman’s odds.