In Moscow, Huntsman will have neither the language background nor the added bonus of an adopted Russian daughter to help bridge the cultural gap. And if he decides to try to hit the streets as he did in China, he may find a less receptive crowd — something McFaul endured almost as soon as he arrived shortly after major protests in Moscow against the reinstallation of Putin as president. Nationalists homed in on his background as a scholar of democratic and revolutionary movements, accusing him of having a secret agenda. For two years, McFaul served as Russia’s punching bag for anti-American sentiment, harassed by security goons, protesters and state media television crews alike.
Given the current climate and the already cooler feelings towards Trump expressed by Russia, Huntsman may well face the same kind of hostility. His success may depend less on his own abilities and more on whether Trump and Putin will actually get along.
Russian interest in Huntsman may grow if they believe he has Trump’s ear. “The more he is seen as having a direct personal line to President Trump, the better,” says Rojansky.
But Huntsman is certainly not in good hombre standing with Trump just yet, and history suggests he will not always see eye to eye with his president. If Huntsman expresses a view at some point that Trump strongly disagrees with, from security to human rights, the president may well sideline him — in the way some believe the Oval Office already has started doing to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.