Jon Huntsman: Rising Political Star / Postpartisan Supernova

Stint in Obama administration shouldn’t cost Huntsman his stature

Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman may be risking his chances of becoming a future Republican presidential candidate by going to work for the Obama Administration.CHRIS PUMMER: Just weeks ago Jon Huntsman was one of the brightest stars in the Republican sky –- which though admittedly dim still left the popular Republican governor from Utah with a universe of opportunity.

Perhaps a contender for his party’s presidential nomination in 2012, Huntsman’s political calculus has obviously changed after accepting an offer from President Obama to become the U.S. Ambassador to China.

While his new job title will only bolster his presidential credentials as measured by real skills and experience, will working for a Democratic administration hurt Huntsman’s electability with the Republican base?

Maybe. There’s hardly any point in setting the line for future primary races. But with Huntsman’s aspirations on the shelf until at least 2016, his future depends on what the party’s base looks like in seven years – or even farther.

Huntsman’s outlook in today’s Republican party was probably pretty bleak, despite the positive press clippings. His support for civil unions and desire to curb energy consumption puts him at odds with a pair of large pillars on which contemporary Republicanism rests.

But by the time Huntsman is ready to reinsert his name into the discussion, one has to think some of the Republican stubbornness regarding gay rights and environmental issues will have receded -– as a matter of pragmatism or simply electoral survival.

In other words, instead of simply chasing the ball, Huntsman is sprinting to where the ball will land.

By then Huntsman will be able to make sincere claims that he is willing to buck the party’s establishment; that he’s able to work across the aisle with Democrats; has executive experience at the state level; and foreign policy experience in spades.

Working for Obama won’t even be a handicap if Huntsman can choose his spots to be critical of his boss. And there will be plenty issues where differences can be drawn.

This doesn’t mean Huntsman has a place at the top of the Republican ticket whenever he chooses. He’ll still have obstacles that even the strongest of candidates must prove they can overcome.

Among them will be selling his views that differ from party dogma as signs of strength and independence instead of letting opponents within the party portray him as a closet liberal who is out of step with other Republicans. Huntsman will have to hope another rising star doesn’t suck the air away from his candidacy, which could easily happen over such a long time horizon.

But Huntsman is still a long way from having blown up his presidential chances.

CHRISTIAN HEINZE: Calling Jon Huntsman a “postpartisan supernova” is absolutely right. Whether that’s right for his national ambitions is another matter. Barack Obama worked the postpartisan angle as well as you can, but that was after he’d spent time forming close ties to liberal groups. Once he was safe for the base, he was safe for the general.

As an ambassador in the opposing party’s administration, Jon Huntsman will have the chance to build goodwill with moderates, but not with the base standing in his way of getting to those moderates. The horse can’t run before it can walk, and if it can, it’s probably from a computer-generated Pixar movie.

Another point you make is whether the Republican party will have changed enough to accomodate, if not embrace, a moderate candidate like Huntsman. Again, Huntsman’s association will likely work against him. After eight years of Bush, the Left wasn’t looking for a card-carrying member of the DLC. They wanted someone to turn the Bush policies on their face. I’d guess the same thing would happen in 2016. However the party’s ideology might have shifted on some issues by then, its aesthetics wouldn’t have changed. And those aesthetics aren’t confined to the GOP, alone. Donkeys don’t like donkeys who get too close to elephants (Lieberman), and elephants don’t like elephants who get to close to donkeys (Huntsman).

But Lieberman vs. Huntsman would be a hell of a show.

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