Huntsman State Speculation Gets Prickly Reception

Former Utah governor brings ample experience, but has significant differences with president-elect

If President-Elect Donald Trump passes over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for secretary of state in favor of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, he will be trading in one Establishment Republican Mormon who had been harshly critical of his campaign for another.

Huntsman called for Trump to drop out of the race amid the chaos following an 11-year-old leaked “Access Hollywood” tape showing the New York billionaire bragging about grabbing women.

“If the president-elect wants a secretary of state complimentary [sic] to his excellent choice of General [James] Mattis as secretary of defense, Huntsman is the antithesis of that.”

Beyond the idea of picking someone who was a strident Trump antagonist, Huntsman has drawn criticism based on his record, which includes a stint as President Obama’s ambassador to China.

“I am quite negative on Huntsman, who is a soft-liner across the board — and someone who fit in with the Obama administration’s foreign policy,” Pepperdine University professor of public policy Robert Kaufman told LifeZette in an email. “If the president-elect wants a secretary of state complimentary [sic] to his excellent choice of General [James] Mattis as secretary of defense, Huntsman is the antithesis of that.”

Kaufman added that his choice would be former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton but added that even Romney and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — who lacks foreign policy experience — “have far better foreign policy instincts than Huntsman.”

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On the other hand, Huntsman would bring a long foreign policy background to the job. The scion of a family made wealthy from a business that makes chemical products, he served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore and China. He also has served as deputy assistant commerce secretary and deputy U.S. trade representative. Huntsman speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese to boot.

“On the positive side, he has an extraordinary amount of experience in Asia, particularly U.S.-Sino relations, which is positive,” said Michael Johns, who served for five years as a foreign policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

Johns said Huntsman’s foreign policy philosophy falls somewhere in the middle between isolationism and overly aggressive neoconservative hawks.

“It seems fairly close to Trump’s reasonable engagement policy,” he said.

More so than other government jobs, Johns said, foreign policy is a specialty “you really have to be in to understand.”

But Johns, a Tea Party activist from New Jersey, said it would be unwise for Trump not to consider whether Huntsman would be a good fit, personality-wise, for his administration. During Huntsman’s brief presidential campaign in 2012, he ran to the left of the field and seemed to delight in antagonizing conservatives.

In August 2012, Huntsman penned an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling on Republicans to embrace unchecked immigration and slamming immigration hardliners using rhetoric reminiscent of that used against Trump in 2016.

“For far too long we as a nation have tolerated an ugly nativist strain that dresses itself up with legitimate concerns about security and the breakdown of the rule of law,” Huntsman wrote.

Johns said the ideal pick for the State Department should have more history with conservatives.

“His relationship with conservatives has seemed to be undeveloped,” he said. “You would, ideally, like to see a little more of a relationship … It’s got to be a factor.”

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that Huntsman had emerged as a potential candidate for the State Department, along with Bolton and Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) The expanded list comes as Trump reportedly is moving away from Romney and Giuliani.

“Trump seems to be considering so many people for secretary of state, I wonder if Hillary Clinton’s going to be next,” quipped Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton in Ohio.

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Devine said considering a range of options with different philosophical viewpoints might help mollify factions that ultimately do not get their top choice — as long as the process does not drag on long enough to make Trump appear indecisive. Although Trump has caused concern from some with his continued tweeting and his pick of Breitbart News CEO Stephen Bannon as White House strategist, Devine said, the Cabinet picks ought to be reassuring to many of the president-elect’s fiercest critics.

“He has not fit the worst version of what his critics were fearing,” he said.

Huntsman, himself, seems to want the job. During an appearance on “Fox & Friends” over the weekend, he defended Trump for breaking protocol and speaking with the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen.

“There’s a little too much hyperventilating on this one,” he said, adding that Trump is “going to do things differently. That’s to be expected. He takes the call, which shouldn’t surprise anybody, and they have a conversation.”

Then again, maybe the flirtation with Huntsman is all part of a plot to embarrass Romney.

“What is the best way to pile on the humiliation of Mitt Romney?” tweeted American Enterprise Institute scholar Norman Ornstein. “Float the name of Jon Huntsman as Secretary of State!”

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