Huntsman in 2012? Nonsense!

Let me start with the qualifier that I once predicted with great certainty that Ronald Reagan would never make it to the White House. So you can take my comments below with that bag of salt.

A weak and speculative Newsweek story (linked below) raises the possibility that current US Ambassador to China John Huntsman may run against Obama in 2012. My guess is that Huntsman is too smart for that.

But let’s look at this from a logical and intelligent perspective, and Huntsman is nothing if not logical and intelligent.

The Republican primary is going to be a smack down. Sarah Palin must run in order to maintain her celebrity status and the income that comes from that – even if she isn’t serious about becoming president. Palin and other Tea Party-steeped candidates will drag the discussion to the wacky right, and moderate candidates will have to take extreme positions to have a chance at the nomination. Just look at how John McCain decimated his credibility in 2008 by reversing many of the moderate positions he had held throughout his political career. The 2012 primary will make 2008 look like a love fest. As many DC journalists have begun to point out, the Republican nomination race in 2012 will be the first in a few decades in which the GOP elite will not in the end be able to anoint a “responsible” candidate.

Why would Huntsman, a thoughtful moderate and a Mormon who could be sliced and diced during this process, want to jump into that race? Additionally, there is a good bet that Obama will get re-elected as the economy will surely be much better in two years and the mid-term losses will have motivated him to come out of his intellectual policy wonk shell and use the presidential bully pulpit to regain his popularity.

On the substantive side, Huntsman leaving China anytime soon would be very unfortunate for US-China relations. The US has a pattern of getting the ambassador we need for the times. Former Senator James Sasser was the right guy to carry the US-China relationship through the accidental US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999. Former Admiral Joseph Prueher was the right person to get us through the EP-3 spy plane incident in 2001. And Ambassador Huntsman is the right guy to help guide the US through the post Global Financial Crisis US-China power shift. Many Chinese political and business leaders believe that the US is at the end of empire. This notion coupled with China funding the US budget deficit – and discordant internal Communist Party politics – are fueling increasingly aggressive Chinese foreign and business policies that are likely to ignite less than helpful responses from American politicians who are focused on fratricidal politics and blaming China for many of America’s home-grown problems.

The US needs Huntsman to stay involved in smoothing out what is certain to be a very rocky road ahead for US-China relations. Kissinger recently noted that the DNA of Chinese and American politics can naturally lead to increasing distrust and conflict. Huntsman is a very smart politician, but he is also a very experienced and knowledgeable China-hand who has the resume, stature and communication skills to get Chinese leaders and responsible Republican and Democratic party politicians to listen to him.

If he were to leave China anytime soon, Huntsman would leave a void the size of some of the caverns in his home state of Utah. Huntsman will be a great Republican candidate in 2016 after the GOP has purged itself of its current poisons and Romney has cleared the way for Christian zealots to accept a Mormon candidate.


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.




About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

4 Responses to Huntsman in 2012? Nonsense!

  1. Kate Dougherty says:

    What is the scuttle behind Huntsman departing? is he running in 2012?


  2. Pingback: Bye Bye Beijing, Hello White House? « Patrick Chovanec

  3. Pingback: Bye Bye Beijing, Hello White House? - China Tracker - What a superpower wants - Forbes

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