Upon hearing that Utah Governor Jon Huntsman was taking Obama’s offer to become Ambassador to China, I was saddened. Huntsman was a conservative that didn’t live in the GOP echo chamber and could see the change that needed to happen in the Republican Party if it is to be a viable force in the age of Obama. He was for civil unions for gays, and was pro-environment. He was considered the one candidate that the Obama team was afraid they would face come 2012. As Andrew Sullivan has noted, he was the “un-Cheney.”
Which of course, meant that the current base of the GOP was never going to go for him. I don’t know if I agree as much that Obama co-opted Huntsman as much as it was Huntsman realizing that now is not the time to consider running for higher office. A few weeks ago, Huntsman went to my home state of Michigan which seemed like an obvious attempt to test the waters for a presidential run. As David Frum notes, the reception was far from friendly. The Republican Party of Kent County, which contains the state’s second largest city, Grand Rapids, canceled an event with the Utah Governor because of his support for civil unions.
Grand Rapids and, indeed, much of Western Michigan, is considered a GOP stronghold. If Huntsman could not get a hearing in the town that was once represented by Gerald Ford, he wasn’t going to get far.
The thing is, the way the party is structured now, Huntsman would have to contort himself in order to be a viable candidate. Rudy Giuliani, who is considered a moderate Republican, had to drop his socially liberal views during the 2008 campaign. John McCain, a conservative more or less like Huntsman, had to also make himself more in the mold of the far right to be at least acceptable to them and then had to accept a less than stellar running mate because she was a social conservative.
I think the way the party is constructed now meant that Huntsman would have to have done the same thing. The Limbaugh wing of the party is a sinking ship but is still the king. My guess is that after the debacle in Michigan, Huntsman decided to say “nuts to that” and take the post in Beijing. Dealing with the Chinese is far easier than dealing with Sean Hannity.
Obama’s gain is the GOP’s loss….again.