Huntsman’s Choice: To Inspire American Competitiveness or Join the Circus

Former US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman plans to announce his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday with the Statue of Liberty as his backdrop. In an unusual run-up to the announcement, Huntsman is being packaged like a clever consumer product launch.

To create some anticipation while etching the outlines of an image, two 30-second videos have been released by the campaign in recent days. They depict a dirt-bike rider in colorful racing garb bouncing along a desert trail, weaving through sagebrush with Utah’s red rock outcroppings in the background. Each video displays a single caption.

The video entitled “In 6 Days” says: “Did not become famous with his band ‘Wizard’.”

The “In 4 Days” video says: “Has seven children, one from China and one from India.”

Huntsman is a capable and smooth politician, with real international understanding and experience, but this campaign will be his first performance on the national stage. His voice should be a welcome addition to the Republican campaign discourse that has been more farcical than factual so far.

It will be interesting to see what Huntsman chooses as the defining issue of his campaign. As a former US ambassador to Singapore and China, international businessman and senior official in the US Trade Representative’s office, Huntsman has the knowledge and life experience to campaign as a reasonable adult who understands that for America to maintain (or regain?) global leadership we must fix the problems politicians from both parties have allowed to fester for at least two decades?

Huntsman is entering the GOP’s Three Ring Circus of a nomination contest with a 1% rating in the latest WSJ/NBC poll that had Mitt Romney in the lead with 30% and Sarah Palin in second with 14%. The single-digit performers in the poll are such fire-breathers as Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, who occupy the media center ring by juggling the fears and prejudices of the GOP faithful.

Huntsman’s challenge will be to attract attention to his campaign without lowering himself to be just another slap-happy participant in the ongoing GOP clown show. His best positioning will be to project the optimism of Ronald Reagan while focusing on American competitiveness. If Huntsman can use his international experience and perspective to inspire Americans to focus on that, he will be doing the country a service.

He has already learned not to serve up Chinese take-outs in his campaign speeches. As ambassador here, Huntsman often began his speeches in Mandarin to display his language ability but also to show respect to the Chinese people. A couple of weeks ago, he tried this same shtick to warm up an audience of evangelical activists brought together Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition. According to a blog by Mother Jones (admittedly a lefty magazine) HERE  the audience reacted quite poorly. Communist China is not exactly popular with American Christians nor with many other factions of the GOP that view China as waging economic warfare on US jobs while stealing American technology.

In reality, Huntsman’s experience as US Ambassador to China is very valuable. He knows that while the US should be tough on unfair Chinese trade and business practices (there are many), the real problem is at home. The US has to revitalize our incredible natural advantages: an ability to attract the world’s top talent; an open intellectual environment that can support the world’s best education system and breakthrough science and technology innovation; and a fair and transparent system of laws and courts that provide a base for social stability and profitable businesses. (By the way, China has none of these.)

The Huntsman campaign will crater if he pulls a McCain and abrogates his long-held reasonable positions to pander to the far-right for the nomination. If the Tea-Party-Steeped GOP isn’t ready for a rational discussion – and the GOP faithful can’t wake up from their talk-radio and cable-TV-induced coma – then let the Grand Old Party nominate somebody else – whom Obama will trounce. Then Huntsman will be teed up nicely for 2016. By that time, the GOP will likely have purged of many of its current poisons, and the country will be looking for an experienced leader with an international resume and reasonable plan.

My hope is that Huntsman has chosen the Statue of Liberty backdrop to highlight the need for intelligent discussion of the divisive immigration issue. Huntsman understands that unless America fixes our immigration policies, and continues to attract and retain the best brains in the world, the country may truly be on the path of slow motion self-destruction.

He would do well to closely review NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s speech last week to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Here is a description of the presentation from the mayor’s website:

“The Mayor proposed green cards for graduates with advanced degrees in essential fields; a new visa for entrepreneurs with investors ready to invest capital in their job-creating idea; more temporary and permanent visas for highly skilled workers; guest-worker programs to ensure agriculture and other key sectors can thrive; and a revaluation of visa priorities that places a focus on the nation’s economic needs. In his remarks, the Mayor also announced the results of a study conducted by the Partnership for a New American Economy – a bipartisan group of business leaders and mayors from across the country – that found more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants and those companies employ more than 10 million people worldwide and have combined revenues of $4.2 trillion.”

Here are the links to Bloomberg’s speech: printed and video, and link to the report.


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.

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