As Barack Obama strides the world stage holding multi-weekly meetings with the world’s most important diplomats, the Republicans have come up short on candidates for the presidency for the 2012 election, which is now just around the corner. Since many of the Republican hopefuls, including Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and billionaire Donald Trump have declined to run, some conservative voters have tentatively placed hope behind former ambassador to China, Jon M. Huntsman, Jr.
Huntsman’s connection to the Democratic party may detract from his attractiveness as a candidate for the Republican candidacy. It was President Obama who named Huntsman ambassador to China in 2009, a post from which the former governor of Utah has just returned, perhaps to seek the nomination of the Grand Old Party. Jon Huntsman, Mormon son of chemical billionaire Jon M. Huntsman, speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, and can be outspoken when he chooses. In his final address as ambassador to China, Huntsman called the Chinese “unfair” in jailing 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving 11 years for subversion. Also unfair, the recent jailing of Beijing artist Ai Weiwei. During that final speech he accused the Chinese of wrongly imprisoning American geologist Xue Feng, who was gathering information on the Chinese oil industry, and whom they accused of stealing state secrets. “The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur”, said Huntsman.
Huntsman’s education was interrupted by his role as a keyboard player in bands, and he dropped out of high school during his senior year to pursue his musical interests, though he did later acquire a G.E.D. He entered the University of Utah as a nonmatriculated student, made good grades, then transferred to the University of Pennsylvania, graduating in 1987 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. During those college years, he also took time off to serve as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, and became fluent in Mandarin Chinese during that time.
Huntsman began his political career as a White House aide to Ronald Reagan, and also served in the administration of George H.W.Bush, who named him ambassador to Singapore. Throughout his career, Huntsman has focused on the ongoing need for bipartisan approaches to national problems. He stresses “civility” and bringing together ideas and opinions to make the political machine work. He mentioned to reporters on one occasion that there was a period of improvement after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, highlighted by the bipartisan seating arrangement at the president’s February State of the Union Address. He pointed to the economy, the job market, and the housing markets as areas that might benefit from more bipartisan cooperation.
There have been occasions when Huntsman’s dialogue with the media has been less than edifying. He told a Time magazine reporter during an interviewer in a cinder block room inside the University of South Carolina sports arena that the appearance of the room gave him some concern that he might be in for some “enhanced interrogation.” Asked about American participation in Afghanistan, and Libya, he answered “There will be more to say about that.” When asked to describe the ways in which his thinking differed from that of Barack Obama on various issues, he replied he didn’t, “want to get into specifics.” As to where he may not agree with the thinking of fellow Republicans, he said it would be unfair to comment without some “diligence.” Even the questioning about his Mormon religion brought an unexpected reply. Is he still a member of the Mormon Church? “That’s tough to define.”
In 2004, Huntsman was elected governor of Utah. Huntsman and his wife Mary Kaye, have seven children, including two adopted daughters: one from China, and one from India. Huntsman is a fan of rock music, motorcycles, mountain biking, reading, and playing keyboard instruments, including the piano.