Saturday, November 10, 2012

Is Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. On Barack Obama's Short List To Replace Hillary Clinton As Secretary Of State?

An Associated Press story about potential successors to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is generating considerable buzz, albeit mostly in Utah at this point. Clinton actually announced the decision to resign after one term back in December 2011 because she was getting tired of living out of a suitcase; the Benghazi fiasco was not a major factor. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. is included on a potential short list of candidates to replace Clinton.

The full list, as published by AP:

-- U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice
-- Tom Donilon, currently Barack Obama's national security advisor
-- Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska
-- John Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman
-- William Burns, Deputy Secretary of State
-- Jon Huntsman

Burns and Huntsman appear to have the inside track; they are the only two on the list without any significant encumbering political baggage. KSL news video embedded below:

Jon Huntsman Jr. has an extensive public service portfolio. In addition to being governor of Utah during a time of strong economic growth in the state, Huntsman served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and United States Ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush, then later as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative. He resigned as governor of Utah to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China under the first Obama Administration, subsequently resigning that post to launch his abortive campaign for the Republican Presidential nomination.

Advantages to Huntsman's selection:

-- Extensive public service portfolio; he knows how government works.
-- Barack Obama would be showing a willingness to reach across the aisle and bridge the yawning political divide in this country.
-- Huntsman's China experience would put an Asia expert in the job at a time when the U.S. needs to focus more attention on the world's most populous continent. University of Utah Political Science Professor Tim Chambless agrees with this premise.
-- Since Huntsman's a Mormon, Mormons unhappy with Mitt Romney's loss would be partially placated.

On the other hand, some Democratic strategists may attempt to dissuade Obama from selecting Huntsman out of fear that Huntsman will outshine Obama and that Huntsman may use the position as a springboard to run for President in 2016, eclipsing a potential Democratic successor to Obama.

Reaction: University of Utah Political Science Professor Tim Chambless says with China looming large in U.S. foreign policy and financial affairs, appointing Huntsman to the cabinet could make sense. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, who worked closely with Huntsman when he was governor, says the president has consulted him, but the pick wouldn't surprise him. "(Obama) picked republicans to be part of his administration; He's picked opponents within the democratic party to be part of his administration," Becker said. "So all of those things lead me to believe he wouldn't rule out Jon Huntsman Junior." In contrast, Quin Monson, head of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy, says it would be surprising. Monson said it would seem unlikely Huntsman would be brought back into a Democratic administration after running against President Obama, but if it happens, it might signal that Huntsman's not seriously considering a 2016 presidential bid, at least not as a Republican. And New Hampshire politician Peter Spaulding, a top adviser to Huntsman’s presidential campaign, agreed that re-joining the Obama Administration all but ends Huntsman’s political career as a Republican. Many people posting comments to KSL are enthused about the possibility.

What Does Huntsman Say? Huntsman is close-mouthed about his future intentions. He says his future is focused on his family and his work, which includes serving as distinguished fellow at a prominent Washington think tank and as chairman of the Huntsman Cancer Institute as well as giving speeches around the country. However, he does own a home in Washington DC as well as a condominium in downtown Salt Lake City, so the logistical problems of accepting a Cabinet appointment are minimal.

Analysis: Selecting Huntsman as Secretary of State would be a plus for Obama. Huntsman would provide professional representation. He knows how to talk to China, but it remains to be seen if he knows how to talk to Russia. This is important because Russia has been acting a bit froggy lately, jailing political dissidents and deploying operational submarines in the Gulf of Mexico and off our East Coast. We need a Secretary of State who will treat Russia with respect in public, but with the cojones to "call Putin to Jesus" behind the scenes. Putin is a macho individual who only respects toughness.

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