U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman (R) is expected to resign in possible preparation for a 2012 presidential campaign, White House officials say.
While Huntsman has been quiet about his own plans, the former Utah governor has assembled a team of political operatives and fundraisers who would help him rapidly ramp up if he decides to run. At a dinner Saturday night, White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley jokingly referred to the ambassador as "the Manchurian Candidate."
While Huntsman is considered a strong general election candidate, his service in President Obama's administration could keep him from ever getting there. As President Obama himself quipped in a recent news conference: "I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary."
Obama's cheeky shot is right on the money. In Illinois last year, State Senator Kirk Dillard very narrowly lost the GOP gubernatorial nomination to Bill Brady (who, in turn, very narrowly lost to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn). One of the most devastating cudgels with with Dillard's opponents hammered him was his appearance in a 2008 campaign ad for Barack Obama. This spot ran in Iowa in advance of the Democratic caucuses:
Rival campaigns pounced on the clip to paint Dillard, a center-right figure, as an Obama-endorsing liberal. Dillard denied ever endorsing Obama, and in fact served as a McCain/Palin delegate at the Republican National Convention. Still, for many conservatives, the label stuck. Dillard eventually lost to Brady by 193 votes.
Such was Dillard's fate in liberal Illinois, where on the same primary night, Republican voters overwhelmingly chose Rep. Mark Kirk -- who'd voted for Cap and Trade and has a 100 percent pro-abortion rights record -- to carry the GOP banner in the US Senate election.
Gov. Huntsman will now (reportedly) join the expanding field of Republican presidential candidates. If he runs, he'll encounter a national primary electorate absolutely desperate to defeat President Obama. He is certainly welcome to try to make the case for why he found it appropriate to join an administration that just two years later he's vowing to defeat, but that endeavor may prove rather difficult. The word "quixotic" comes to mind. We shall see.
Larry Sabato calls the White House's "Manchurian Candidate" dig at Huntsman the "perfect insult" because it "combines three Republican base fears about Huntsman: Obama, Mormonism, and liberalism." A Huntsman candidacy would be assailed from the Right and undermined from the Left. If he can somehow emerge from that cauldron to win the nomination, the chattering class will be dazzled by his political acumen, and rightfully so.
*UPDATE* - Huntsman has sent his letter of resignation to the president.
Other 2012 News and Notes: Rudy Giuliani is headed to New Hampshire in March, as presidential whispers grow louder. His failed 2008 campaign is still in debt.