Huntsman: inside and outside

Writing for the Gray Lady, Jim Rutenberg spins a yarn regarding the future of soon-to-be presidential candidate Jon Huntsman which makes the author a more interesting story than the candidate. It starts off blithely enough, describing Huntsman as being simultaneously a “Washington outsider” and someone who has worked inside the administration.

But that’s not the only contradiction offered. Rutenberg is quick to portray Huntsman as a backstabbing ingrate who caught his former boss totally off guard when he decided to try to replace him.

Mr. Huntsman’s decision prompted a mix of suspicion and resignation among the president’s advisers: suspicion that Mr. Huntsman had not always been straight about his national aspirations, and resignation that, as one presidential strategist put it, “There’s no loyalty in politics,” especially when it comes to across-the-aisle alliances.

Fair enough. It’s a charge we’ve seen before, though some of the wind is taken out of the theory’s sails every time Barack Obama gets in front of a microphone and repeats his witty one liners about what a good job Jon did. But the author isn’t content to let those particular sleeping dogs lie, going on to put forth the opposite argument later in the article.

Mr. Obama’s decision to name Mr. Huntsman his ambassador to China in 2009 was hailed by members of both parties as another act of political wizardry, a chance to show that the president was trying to infuse his administration with a bipartisan spirit.

The president’s aides had by then identified Mr. Huntsman, a rising star of the Republican Party, as a potentially strong opponent in 2012. And Mr. Obama’s team basked in accolades among political strategists for taking Mr. Huntsman out of the mix and packing him off some 7,000 miles away.

So which is it? Either you were surprised that he decided to run for president or you sent him to China specifically because you were worried that he was a “rising star” who was going to run for president. You can’t really have it both ways.

All of the video clips making the rounds showing President Obama praising Huntsman will certainly be widely employed ammunition for the rest of the GOP field. But in the unlikely event that he somehow nabbed the nomination, those same clips would hobble the president in the general election. It would be fairly hard to start questioning the man’s credentials after heaping that kind of praise on him.

In the end, this is probably just an early indicator that the media is beginning to pay more attention to Huntsman as a possible contender, even if most of the conservative base isn’t. But if they’re looking to build a case against him, they’re going to need to do a bit better than this.