The White House has begun leaking to the press that they expect their ambassador to China, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, to resign in the next few weeks or months in order to enter the Republican primaries for the presidential nomination. Both Jake Tapper at ABC and Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at Politico have reports this morning on the chatter. Neither report has any date in mind for Huntsman’s departure, but both carry plenty of snark aimed at Huntsman by his current bosses.
White House officials tell ABC News that the Obama administration expects the US Ambassador to China, former GOP Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, to step down from his post in the coming months to explore a possible 2012 run for president. …
At the Gridiron dinner Saturday night, White House Chief of Staff William Daley joked that President Obama “has no hard feelings,” a White House source noted. “He just did an interview with the Tea Party Express about how integral he has been to the success of the Obama administration.”
Politico’s report contains the same TPE joke, and also this:
“It’s also good to see Jon Huntsman, our ambassador to China,” Daley said, according to a source in the room. “Or as we call him around the White House: the Manchurian Candidate.
Martin and Burns report that the snark comes from a poorly-concealed annoyance at Huntsman’s presidential aspirations. However, Obama has only himself to blame, as Huntsman’s appointment to China was blatantly political:
For all their quips, Obama officials are a tad irritated at the barely-veiled presidential moves of their own ambassador in one of the most important countries in the world.
But the appointment of Huntsman was, in the first place, unmistakably political. With senior Obama advisers openly fretting about the prospect of facing off against a telegenic, wealthy, center-right Republican, shipping him off to Beijing was hailed as a savvy play.
No way, the assumption went, could he somehow return stateside and capture his party’s nomination after serving in the Obama administration.
Now, as the 2012 GOP primary slowly begins, that seems to be the central question hanging over a potential Huntsman run.
The White House strategists may have been too clever by half. Few people had heard of Huntsman outside of Utah in 2009. While Huntsman had a good center-right record in the state, he had not done much to build himself into a national brand. Since then, the political winds have blown far more favorably to conservatives within the GOP, which may have left Huntsman on the outside in any case. Now Hunstman has a much higher profile than he may otherwise have attained.
In fact, they may have done themselves more damage than good. Putting Huntsman in China would give him more credibility in foreign policy than just about any of the other presumed candidates in the GOP race except for John Bolton. Even if Huntsman doesn’t win the nomination, criticism of Obama’s “smart diplomacy” from within the fold — especially from the man who managed the key relationship with the nation that holds a large chunk of our debt — will do significant damage to Obama in a general election.
This looks like an effort to push Huntsman into resigning as soon as possible. The sooner Huntsman leaves, the sooner the White House can blame him for the failures in the US-China relationship over the last two years.