Politico is reporting this morning that Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman is planning to resign this spring to run for President. Rumors of a Huntsman bid have swirled for weeks, but this is the most authoritative story to date. As the Politico reporters write:
The White House expects Jon Huntsman, the U.S. Ambassador to China, to resign his post this spring to explore a bid for the Republican presidential nomination, top Democrats said.
GOP allies of Huntsman have already begun laying plans for a quick-start campaign should the former Utah governor decide to enter the ill-defined Republican field.
While Huntsman has no direct involvement in it, a group of operatives that could eventually comprise his strategy team has set up an entity called “Horizon PAC” to serve as a placeholder for his political apparatus.
The PAC will be run by Susie Wiles, a Florida-based Republican strategist who recently managed the campaign of newly-inaugurated Gov. Rick Scott.
Huntsman has avoided publicly discussing the possibility of a bid against the president who appointed him, but he’s sending signals that make clear he’s serious about a run now – not in 2016, when many top officials in both the GOP and the White House assumed he’d run.
Over the holidays, the ex-governor met with Sen. John McCain, whose 2008 presidential run Huntsman backed early on. In a discussion with the senator, who is the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee, about a variety of issues, Huntsman made plain that he was eyeing a White House campaign in the near term, according to a source close to the senator.
A Republican briefed on plans for the political action committee said Huntsman’s final decision on whether to run is expected in June or July.
By all accounts Ambassador Huntsman has been a terrific envoy, but President Obama needs to fire him immediately, for at least two reasons:
1. Obama looks weak if allows one of his appointees to be actively plotting to unseat him. You can not govern effectively in Washington if you do not command both respect and fear. Immediate termination of Ambassador Huntsman would send a strong (however belated) message to his staffers and appointees. Yes some will argue that firing the Ambassador will just raise his profile, but that argument pales against the next, much more important point;
2. Obama needs to fire Huntsman to show the Chinese that he can not be pushed around. How do you think the Chinese leadership, outstanding plotters and political operators to a man, will view Obama if he tolerates his envoy to Beijing actively planning to unseat him in two years? Perceived weakness and dithering as Huntsman considers challenging his boss will harm US-China relations.
The US embassy in Beijing has terrific career staffers and Robert Wang, the Deputy Chief of Mission, could effectively step in on an interim basis.
UPDATE: I have started a thread on this topic at Quora. Here are some of my comments:
You have to consider how the Chinese will see this and how it will affect the relationship…Obama is letting political considerations get in the way of this relationship, at a time when we are struggling to regain momentum and trying to capitalize on whatever good will was created during the Hu-Obama summit.
Huntsman can no longer be an effective envoy, no matter how talented and ethical he may be…The Chinese will now play to him and Obama, as a way to hedge his possible election as President in 2012. END UPDATE
Replacing Ambassador Huntsman will be an interesting exercise. No doubt John Thornton, former Goldman Sachs President and current Chairman of the Brookings Institution, will lobby for the job. But Obama should resist appointing a Goldman alum to this vitally important job; it would send many wrong messages to the Chinese.
I think General Colin Powell would be an inspired choice. As one of America’s more accomplished elder statesman and a decorated military veteran, he would both give the Chinese “face” and be an extremely qualified steward of the most important bilateral relationship in the world.
Please tell me in the comments who else might be a good pick as the next Ambassador to Beijing, or join the thread on this topic at Quora.