Chris Jones writes:
[Former US ambassador to China and newly-declared GOP presidential candidate, Jon] Huntsman and his family returned from Beijing only twenty days ago, at the end of April. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he had served at the embassy for nearly two years, his third ambassadorship and his fourth time living in Asia. (The first stint came when he was posted to Taiwan as a Mormon missionary.) At the behest of President Obama, he had left the governor’s mansion in Salt Lake City to take the job, early in his second term. It was a controversial appointment for a Republican to accept, before and after. “If your president asks you to serve, you serve,” Huntsman always says. But only a few weeks ago, the handwritten thank-you note Huntsman had sent Obama mysteriously surfaced online. “You are a remarkable leader,” it read in part, “and it has been a great honor getting to know you.” There was only one way for the note — dated August 16, 2009, and already labeled a “love letter” by the GOP’s clown flank — to come out just now, and for only one reason: Obama’s people were trying to end Huntsman’s campaign before it had a chance to begin, choking it with their warm embrace. Since the first rumors last winter that Huntsman might leave his post in Beijing to run for president, Obama had taken to calling him “outstanding” or “my buddy” in public — or, most damaging of all, “my friend.” None of that was an accident. Jon Huntsman’s presidential aspirations risked becoming the first in history done in by love.
“I won’t share with you the words I used with Mary Kaye when that note first came out,” Huntsman will say later, driving through New Hampshire. Mary Kaye, sitting beside him in the back of the SUV, will smile only a little. “But listen. I don’t write anything down, ever, without thinking, This could show up. The president appointed me, I thought that was a pretty bold move, I thought it showed leadership, and so I told him that. I stand by the content of that note. But I remember when I wrote it, I remember thinking, This is probably coming out sometime. They’ve done us a great service in some ways, by getting it out early. For a while I wondered whether it was someone really smart on our side who got it out, or someone really stupid on theirs.”
Huntsman doesn’t normally talk like that. He was made to be a diplomat. Ask him about his principal opposition for the Republican nomination, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and he’ll answer: “Mitt’s a terrific guy and a formidable politician.” Somewhere along the way, Huntsman and his team of advisors — led by former John McCain campaign strategist John Weaver — have decided that they can win a presidential campaign, can win two campaigns, in fact, by distancing themselves from rhetoric, from fire. They believe Huntsman’s best quality is his dispassion, his realism, his ability to boil the emotion out of everything and leave only reason behind. Huntsman might look like HBO’s version of a president — flagpole posture, great hair, lean face — but he gives the impression that his potential tenure would make for the most boring movie imaginable. A Jon Huntsman presidency would be a mathematical proof. It would be like watching water without waves.