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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 01/31/2011

What is being whispered in Jon Huntsman's ear?

By Ezra Klein

Can someone sketch me out an even moderately plausible scenario in which a moderate Republican governor who broke with his party on civil unions and cap-and-trade and then joined the Obama administration wins both the GOP nomination and the presidential election in 2012?

By Ezra Klein  | January 31, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
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It's about name recognition, not winning.

The Republican field in 2012 is almost as bad as the Democrat field in 2004.

Posted by: krazen1211 | January 31, 2011 12:39 PM | Report abuse

And let's not forget that he's also a Mormon who doesn't entirely hate gay folks, two more big negatives as far as the religious right is concerned.

Posted by: S1VA | January 31, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

I think he probably thinks that his best shot to be president is winning in 2016 if Barack Obama wins reelection. Don't be surprised if he stuns everyone this year. I think he will get the Ron Paul-Megan McCain republicans (a group that will be larger than it was in 2008). If he does better than expected, which is almost assured since everyone considers his candidacy a joke, then he will be a sensation, like the Howard Dean of the American Right. Smart republicans probably know that this whole Tea Party thing has a limited amount of gas in it. He's right to be thinking about what comes after the Tea Party and trying to become the leader of whatever that is. Anyone who thinks he has no chance is forgetting that Barack Obama made him Ambassador to China, which was probably not a move inspired by Huntsman's expertise on Sino-American relations.

Posted by: phillycomment | January 31, 2011 12:47 PM | Report abuse

It's posturing for the Chinese. Who in Beijing is going to want to seriously mess around with Huntsman (who's ambassador to China) when they think that he's a potential future president?

Honestly, I like to think that Obama himself convinced Huntsman to create these rumors to gain a better position at the table with the Chinese ;).

Posted by: bobsimmons | January 31, 2011 1:19 PM | Report abuse

huntsman may be a credible candidate in 2016.... if there is any hope for the republican party....but who knows if there is????

the climate in the republican party is now in complete disarray, and pitiful shambles... and with the michelle bachman and the other mythological characters holding sway....huntsman's time will not ripen, until IF and WHEN the republicans have restored some sensibility, intellectual conversation and sanity to their party. and that is a heck of a big, IF and WHEN.
they are not in a place of normalcy, so a normal, centrist candidate cannot represent them.
besides, the economy is going to improve....
and for all of the whining and complaining of the hard left,and all of the annoying rooting about for sensationalized troubles, of the puppies digging in the dirt...barack obama is still beloved ,and there will be a huge movement coming out to work for him.
and.......having a republican take over the white house, while there are so many politically and SCARY, shameful and lliterate leaders in their party, will ensure that moderates, democrats and all normal people will make sure they cant win.

as they say....word:-)

Posted by: jkaren | January 31, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Does "moderately plausible scenario" include top-secret CIA conspiracies and/or space aliens? If not, then no. He'd be the Mormon candidate that's even more suspect than Romney is. Which, for conspiracy-minded weirdos, may be the only reason he's getting in: to help Romney.

Posted by: ctown_woody | January 31, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

I can't at this point, but I will say that if Obama loses in 2012 or the Democratic candidates loses in 2016, I really, really hope he or she loses to Jon Huntsman and failing that, to Mitch Daniels or Mitt Romney. The rest of the GOP field is comprised of people who are fools or bigots (and usually both). Romney is slimy given his flip flopping on health reform, but I think he would not be the worst thing to happen to America.

Posted by: weiwentg | January 31, 2011 2:10 PM | Report abuse

He's keeping his GOP cred up for a cabinet level position if and when a Republican returns to the White House.

Posted by: yellojkt | January 31, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

He's positioning himself for 2016.

Posted by: mtracy84 | January 31, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

I think he sees that wide gaping hole in the Republican landscape to appeal to Mormons who once favored both cap-and-trade and gay rights.

That's gotta be what, at least 0.7% of the Republican primary electorate, right? If he and Romney split that rock-solid constituency then they're off to a roaring start.

Posted by: B2O2 | January 31, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

Why do Democrats try to discredit Republicans within their base instead of criticizing the ideology they disagree with?

For the nomination, John McCain was a moderate Republican who disagreed with the base on many issues (most notably, probably immigration). The front runner for 2012 (Romney) also created an abominated health care system in Massachusetts and is from Utah. I don't think the reasons listed are Huntsman's main obstacle, but his poor name recognition.

Beating Obama I think is difficult for any Republican as long as Obama has the advantage of inspiring people with his rhetoric. That is a difficult edge to overcome.

Posted by: FroggyJ4 | January 31, 2011 2:30 PM | Report abuse

Possible path to winning: he gets an endorsement from Jesus?


Posted by: chrisgaun | January 31, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Yes how is this a bad thing. 1) He exerts a moderating influence on the R primary. 2)He becomes moderately more famous than he was before outside policy circles. 3) People on cable news say his name and moderately a lot in the same sentences. Win-win-win from his perspective.

Posted by: beej2 | January 31, 2011 2:43 PM | Report abuse


1) Romney gets hit so hard on health care reform that he has to drop out before race really gets started.

2) Business community and moderates coalesce around Huntsman as the electable/competent choice.

The trick would be that the right wing of the party (i.e., the large majority of the party at this point) would have to stay fragmented among 2 or 3 candidates (say, Palin/Gingrich/Paul) late into the process, since Huntsman would almost certainly lose if the field got winnowed down to just two candidates fairly early in the process.

In terms of beating Obama, that would probably have to be almost purely a function of the economy stagnating.

So, yes, implausible--but maybe not that much more implausible than any other GOP candidate getting elected president based on what we know now.

Posted by: edwardlahoa | January 31, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Re: "he gets an endorsement from Jesus"

Don't you mean Joseph Smith?

Posted by: S1VA | January 31, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

the huffington post needs something else to talk about.
since every third photograph on their site was sarah palin, and she is of little interest, and her star has faded,
they need a they have their eggbeaters out, and are whipping up the huntsman speculation.

Posted by: jkaren | January 31, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

I've read that he's a good general and a terrible primary candidate. The question may be will the Tea Party and religious conservatives split between Palin, Huckabee, TPaw, etc and leave Huntsman to pick up the pieces. Plus, Huntsman's got skills.

Posted by: keilprti1 | January 31, 2011 4:04 PM | Report abuse

If Palin's running the conservative vote will be split between her and the rest of the righties. So she'll get like 40% in every state, and Gingrich/Romney/Thune etc. will be splitting another 40%. If Huntsman is the only moderate running he's gonna come in second an awful lot, most of those righties will have to drop out, and he'll be the anti-Palin candidate.

As for winning the Presidency, he's got a better shot then most of the other candidates. Palin is doomed. Gingrich has sky-high negatives. Romney is a serial flip-flopper. All are depending on a shrinking demographic (old white people).

All that said he's not likely to pull either one off. There may be other moderates (like Guliani), and the anti-Palin conservatives know they need to coalesce around somebody right after New Hampshire if Palin is in the race.

Note that even if he fails this helps his career immeasurably. In the past few years he's gone from popular Governor of a small state to Ambassador from a super-power to the largest country in the world, to guy with serious Presidential buzz. His book sales just went up, as did his bookings on shows needing a moderate Republican. A semi-succesful Presidential run (ie: one that doesn't crash and burn in Iowa) can only help him.

Posted by: NickBenjamin | January 31, 2011 5:11 PM | Report abuse


I can only agree with your disdain for the state of discourse and attitude toward fact in the Republican party, but I'd warn against letting your disdain color your estimation of the medium term political prospects of the Republican party.

Posted by: goodepicwashpost | January 31, 2011 5:51 PM | Report abuse

I agree that he would have a lot of flaws for a Republican primary, but so would Romney. I'm betting that the logic behind his candidacy is that he would emerge as the only guy who could credibly utter this sentence:

"Nominate me. I'm the only person who will beat Obama."

Posted by: michaelh81 | January 31, 2011 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Plausible scenario:

(1) He turns out to be a really good candidate and campaigner and can fight uphill and stay relevant.

(2) Romney, pummeled over RombamaCare catchphrase, comes in something like third in Iowa, 2nd NH, 4th SC, 3rd NV. Develops Hillary collapse stench (TM).

(3) Internet coalesces around charismatic Huntsman.

(4) Obama is still popular, big $ backers see moderate Huntsman as only realistic winning shot in November.

Posted by: Steko | January 31, 2011 7:59 PM | Report abuse

IMHO, this is all about 2016. Just as the serious contenders for the 2012 GOP nomination are those who were in the game in 2008 (Romney, Huckster, Palin), the serious contenders in 2016 are likely to be people who at least showed up for the 2012 primary season.

Posted by: rt42 | February 1, 2011 8:38 AM | Report abuse

Did someone in these comments really coin the term 'Ron Paul/Megan McCain Republicans'? Lulz!

Huntsman is irrelevant.

Posted by: sailingaway1 | February 1, 2011 12:32 PM | Report abuse

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