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Was Jon Huntsman "Disloyal" to America?

Yesterday, conservative blogger Erick Erickson fired a blistering shot across the bow of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman's nascent presidential campaign.  Erickson argues that Huntsman does not deserve conservatives' support because of his "disloyal" behavior towards the President of the United States
vis-a-vis his Ambassadorship to China and his political aspirations:

The reason I will never, ever support Jon Huntman is simple: While serving as the United States Ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the President of the United States. This calls into question his loyalty not just to the President of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition.

It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Party is beside the point here. When the President of the United States sends you off to be Ambassador to our greatest strategic adversary in the world, you don’t sit around contemplating running against the very same President you serve. It begs the question of did you fully carry out your duties as Ambassador or let a few things slip along the way hoping to damage the President? Likewise, it begs the question of whether our relations with China have suffered because the President felt like he could not trust his own Ambassador?

Disloyalty to the country is a very serious charge, and I wonder if Erickson may have unleashed it a bit cavalierly here.  I share several of Erickson's heavily-implied concerns about Huntsman's record on a number of policy issues (which he says are a secondary basis for his opposition to Huntsman's candidacy).  Indeed, if he chooses to run, Huntsman should -- and will -- face a gauntlet of tough questions on issues ranging from
immigration, to environmental policy, to the "stimulus," to traditional marriage.  Not to mention his so-called "love letters" to President Obama.

But an impure conservative record does not equate to disloyalty.  To reinforce the weightier accusation, Erickson cites a number of news accounts suggesting that a team of political operatives began to assemble a campaign apparatus while Huntsman was serving in China.  Team Huntsman vehemently denies there was any collaboration between Ambassador Huntsman and those working state-side (indirectly) on his behalf.  A source close to the Huntsman operation tells me that Huntsman was largely unaware of the groundwork others were laying for him: "When he returned [from China], Gov. Huntsman was stunned by the number of people encouraging him to run and the scope of what they had built." 

I've yet to see any information contradicting this assertion.  I'm also unaware of any evidence that Huntsman's political ambitions resulted in any form of dereliction of duty or conflict of interest as he served as our ambassador to China.  Surely, it's not a crime for a politician to think about his future while serving in another administration, right?  That would be an unreasonable standard of loyalty in my view.

Finally, Erickson offers this point against Huntsman:

And don’t tell me that Jon Huntsman was not thinking of running for President and contemplating that while still in office. On May 5, 2009, the Washington Post reported McCain adviser John Weaver was giving Huntsman strategic guidance on running in 2012. This came before Huntsman went to China.


As this paragraph notes, Huntsman was widely known to already be considering a presidential bid before he left for China.  It would therefore follow that President Obama -- ever the savvy political fellow -- knew full well that Jon Huntsman, an ambitious politician, might be contemplating a run at him several years later...and appointed him to the important post anyway. 

Unless and until evidence is produced that Huntsman knowingly and unethically colluded with a domestic political team while in China, or that his political maneuvering in some way interfered with his sworn duty to zealously and loyally represent the United States in Beijing, accusations of disloyalty seem misplaced and unfair.

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