David Axelrod damns Jon Huntsman with praise


U.S. Ambassador To China Jon Huntsman delivers a lecture at the Four Seasons Hotel on April 6, 2011 in Shanghai, China. (ChinaFotoPress/GETTY IMAGES)

David Axelrod, top adviser to President Obama’s reelection campaign, suggested Saturday that it would be hard for Jon Huntsman to pivot from serving as U.S. ambassador to China to running against the president in 2012.

In an interview with The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, Axelrod said the Republican “was quite complimentary of what the president was doing” while serving the administration in Beijing and was “willing to buck the tide of his own party” on many issues.

Huntsman returned from Beijing on Friday, and he will be spending this week meeting with the advisers and strategists who would run his campaign should he vie for the Republican nomination. He’s had little contact with them while in China, because of rules that bar officials in the executive branch from involvement in political campaigns. His resignation as ambassador took effect Saturday.

Huntsman is a former governor of Utah who served in the Reagan White House, ran a successful business and speaks fluent Mandarin. Before the White House sent Huntsman to China, the prospect of his 2012 campaign made Axelrod a “wee bit queasy,” he said.

Huntsman’s top political adviser, John Weaver, told the Salt Lake Tribune: “You don’t pull the trigger recklessly. We expect and hope and plan that he’ll want to have counsel from a wide variety of sources. And that’s proper. And from what I know of the governor, that’s his style anyway. Having said that, the car is built, and it’s ready for the driver.”

Axelrod also offered dubiously helpful praise for former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, another potential 2012 contender. Like other Democrats in the administration, he cited Romney’s state health-care law as a model for the federal Affordable Care Act that has inspired a huge amount of anger among Republican voters.

The Massachusetts law has haunted Romney on the campaign trail. Other possible candidates have attacked him for signing a universal health-care bill, and he has been forced to repeatedly explain why what he thought was good for his state is not good for the country as a whole. Axelrod insisted that his appreciation of Romney was sincere. “Someday, he will reclaim ownership with pride of that law,” Axelrod said.

There was only one Republican hopeful that Axelrod completely dismissed — media mogul Donald Trump. He criticized news networks for juxtaposing Obama’s release of his long-form birth certificate with a Trump new conference as “an absurd decision.” While the billionaire television star might be on top of polls at the moment, Axelrod, a longtime campaign strategist, argued that “polls at this point are about as useful as a farmer’s almanac.”

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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