Feels like it should be a big deal, as ambassador to Russia is an important job under any president and should be a really important job under this president. But given how Rex Tillerson has disappeared and funding for his department has been placed on the chopping block, I don’t know. Trump seems to conduct foreign policy entirely from the White House. Formal diplomatic positions may be mostly ceremonial.
So congrats to Huntsman on becoming a figurehead for our new Russia policy, I guess.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has been offered the job of U.S. ambassador to Russia and is in the process of submitting paperwork to accept the position, two administration sources have confirmed…
He was officially offered the Russia post earlier this week.
Huntsman did not respond to a POLITICO request for comment. Sources say he plans to accept the job, one of the most sensitive and high profile ambassadorships, especially given the FBI and congressional investigations into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s apparent efforts to tip last year’s election in his favor and contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
That’s weird in at least three ways. One: Huntsman’s area of expertise isn’t Russia, it’s the Far East. He was ambassador to Singapore briefly under Bush 41 and Bill Clinton, then became Obama’s ambassador to China in 2009. How’d he end up as a top choice as liaison to Moscow? Two: He was thinking of primarying Orrin Hatch next year in Utah, and at least one poll showed him waaaaay ahead. But now the Russia job will short-circuit that, leaving Republican dinosaur Hatch well positioned for yet another term in the Senate — which is pretty much the opposite of draining the swamp. It wouldn’t be the first time Huntsman’s received an ambassadorship that conveniently takes him out of the political fray, either. He was being touted in 2009 as a potential opponent for Obama in 2012 before O brought him into the tent with the China job.
Three, oddest of all: He’s been critical of Trump in the past — and not just recently. A lot of people tonight are citing this statement from last fall, after the “Access Hollywood” tape emerged…
“In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom — at such a critical moment for our nation — and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor [Mike] Pence [R-Ind.] to lead the ticket,” Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune last October.
…but Huntsman’s antipathy to Trump, and vice versa, goes back much further. In 2011, when he ran for president, his spokesman Tim Miller — who later went on to work for Jeb Bush — took to needling Mitt Romney on Twitter for sucking up to “political sideshows like Trump.” (Man, 2011 was a long time ago.) Trump slapped back that China “cleaned our clock” during Huntsman’s stint as ambassador. A few months later, Trump tried to get the GOP candidates to participate in a presidential forum he planned to host for Newsmax. Huntsman, who was pitching himself as a worldly, sophisticated Republican who wouldn’t stoop to such things, refused to join in. Miller struck again, tweeting “Lol. We look forward to watching Mitt and Newt suck-up to The Donald with a big bowl of popcorn.” Trump responded by calling Huntsman a “joke candidate.” Huntsman himself then weighed in:
“I’m not going to kiss his ring and I’m not going to kiss any other part of his anatomy,” Huntsman said on Fox News Monday morning. “This is exactly what is wrong with politics. It’s show business over substance.”
Huntsman added about the real estate mogul: “If he had any courage at all, he would be running for president of the United States of America instead of manipulating the process form the outside.”…
“This is about real issues. It’s not about show business. The presidency of the United States of America is more important than these silly game shows and reality shows,” Huntsman said.
Turns out America wanted a reality-show president! A few months later, after Huntsman finally dropped out of the Republican race, Trump gave him one last kick:
Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China! @JonHuntsman
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 9, 2012
Maybe that’s why he got the Russia job. If, as it sometimes seems, we’re looking to give away America’s strategic advantages abroad to Moscow, who better than Huntsman to deliver? Weirdest of all, Trump has had no qualms about spiking candidates for major diplomatic positions because they’ve criticized him in the past. Elliott Abrams was apparently Tillerson’s handpicked choice to be number two at State and Team Trump said no because Abrams had taken a shot at him during the campaign. Yet here’s Huntsman in line for arguably the single most important ambassadorship in the U.S. arsenal. How come?
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.