As governor of Utah, it is true that Huntsman pursued a moderate environmental agenda and did not go out of his way to offend immigrants. If these are disqualifying for a GOP presidential candidate, Republicans have no intention of winning. Huntsman is also strongly pro-life. His growth-oriented economic agenda as governor -- a flat tax, a reduction in the sales tax -- is a conservative model. And his business background appeals to important Republican constituencies.
Huntsman believes the presidential election will be a contest of economic visions. "As if it weren't apparent before, it will be jobs, jobs all the time. On the economy, there is not one alarm bell ringing but two or three alarm bells ringing." Americans will want a candidate, he says, who "gets the private sector, and it helps to have been there." The choice, in Huntsman's stark formulation, is "between a top-heavy statist model and returning to our capitalist roots."
As America's just-returned ambassador to China, Huntsman also brings foreign policy credentials to a Republican field lacking in them. But here he has raised questions of consistency. On the stump, he speaks movingly of visiting Chinese "freedom fighters" who were beaten and imprisoned for defending their rights. At the same time, he opposes the American operation in Libya, on the grounds that it is not "core to our national security interests." As president, would Huntsman really have allowed the leveling of Benghazi and the victory of Moammar Gaddafi?
Another foreign policy issue is more easily dismissed. Why did Huntsman agree to be President Obama's ambassador to China? Because he was not Obama's ambassador to China. He was America's ambassador to China. When a president calls with such a request, the proper, patriotic response is: "Yes, sir." It is never a scandal to serve one's country.
Huntsman may not be able to overcome the obstacle of his anonymity, at least this time around. But he contributes a thoughtful competence to the Republican field. While some seem to be running for a host position on Fox News, Huntsman appears to be running for president.