The fact that Jon Huntsman’s name has been both officially and unofficially in the mix for this post since early this year doesn’t make it any less startling now that it’s official. President Trump has nominated the former Utah Governor to be our Ambassador to Russia, arguably one of the most high profile positions of any of our ambassadors given the current, uh… situation lighting up the media. The Associated Press has the details.
President Donald Trump announced his intention Tuesday to nominate former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman to be U.S. ambassador to Russia.
If confirmed, the former 2012 GOP presidential candidate would take over a high-profile post amid ongoing investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
Huntsman has twice served as an ambassador. He was the nation’s top diplomat to Singapore under President George H.W. Bush and then served in that role in China under President Barack Obama before returning to the U.S. to run for president…
Still, the White House misspelled Huntsman’s first name in its press release announcing Trump’s intention, calling him “Governor John Huntsman Jr. of Utah” instead of Jon.
Predictable typos aside (I typed “John” on the first go when setting up this column), this will likely turn into another trial by fire between the President and Senate Democrats. Just the Russia, Russia, Russia factor alone will no doubt fuel some stiffening of backs in the minority and the media will find no shortage of little tidbits (which have zero to do with events on the ground today) tying Huntsman’s family to Russian businesses.
But on the other hand, the guy’s Inside-the-Swamp credentials are impeccable. It’s always been a somewhat odd choice, but Allahpundit examined a couple of reasons why Trump would go in this direction back in March when Huntsman’s name first came up as the likely pick.
Two obvious possibilities. One is substantive, namely, that Trump and his team are hoping to make nice with Russia partly in order to isolate China — the “Kissinger strategy,” let’s call it. There are many reasons to believe that strategy will fail, but if that’s your goal, it helps to have a man on the team who knows China intimately and will understand how cooperation with Russia might damage Chinese interests. The other possibility is stylistic: Huntsman is the very model of an urbane centrist establishment Republican, exactly the sort of guy Trump might like to have defending his Russia policy to an aggressively skeptical press. It’s the same logic, I think, that had him interested in Romney for awhile as Secretary of State. Romney as chief diplomat would amount to a Beltway seal of approval for Trump’s foreign policy, legitimizing it in the eyes of some critics. Same goes for Huntsman, a diplomatic pro, vis-a-vis Russia. It’s one thing to suspect Trump of naivete and authoritarian sympathies if the U.S. reaches out to Putin, but … Jon Huntsman? He’s a walking, talking “Mainstream” billboard. Maybe that’s why he got the job.
Neither of those possible explanations are any less valid today, but in March we also didn’t know the full extent of the problems that Chuck Schumer would be causing by this point. So here’s another thought: Trump has been navigating his way through Obstruction Junction on all of his nominees for a while now. There hasn’t been all that much churn in the upper chamber since Obama was elected and in August of 2009 the Senate unanimously confirmed Huntsman as Ambassador to China. Aside from quibbling over whether or not he has enough direct experience with the Russians as compared to his Asian bona fides, how many will turn around now and say that he shouldn’t be confirmed? Yeah, his father did plenty of business in Russia so he might be said to be “friendly” with them, but is that enough?
This may just be a case of Trump setting up Senate Democrats for charges of playing politics with an important ambassadorial position. If he was good enough under Obama, why isn’t he good enough now? Given how easy and breezy the Democrats were in confirming some of Obama’s ambassadors, including a case where a soap opera producer was placed as the Ambassador to Hungary despite seeming a little confused as to where the country was located, this is going to be a tough argument to make. Huntsman may not be as much of an expert on Russia as he is on China, but the guy’s breadth of experience is so far over the top compared to some of the stiffs who have landed positions as ambassadors in the past that it shouldn’t even be a question.
Is Trump just baiting the trap and waiting for Chuck Schumer to try to make an argument against confirming him? I wouldn’t put it past him.