Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Jon Huntsman - US Ambassador in China to run against Obama?

He's fluent in Mandarin, one of his adopted daughters was born in China and he communicates across cultural faultlines with elegance. After Barack Obama built a bridge between Caucasian Americans and African Americans, Jon Huntsman may build bridges between America and China. The US Ambassador to China handed in his resignation at the beginning of February - everybody expects the former Republican governor of Utah to take up the fight against Barack Obama in 2012.

Huntsman is described by commentators as an inspiring, charismatic and intelligent person, leaving interlocutors "slightly glassy-eyed at the memory of their encounter". In comparing Huntsman to charismatic Bill Clinton, a British businessman says that “Clinton ... was just addicted to people, like a vampire he consumed them for his own benefit. I’d put Huntsman on a higher plane than that ... it’s Huntsman’s ability to make you feel like he’s always slightly off-script, a little bit close to the edge: a joke here, a side reference there, that makes you feel he’s incapable of being evasive and not phased by anything.” The US ambassador is known for thinking outside the box and would sometimes arrive at meetings with the Chinese Foreign Ministry on his bicycle.

Of course, Huntsman's progressive and unconventional thinking makes him a difficult choice for the Republican Party. Orville Schell, Director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations says that "given the acid political environment in Washington and the emphatically anti-intellectual attitude of all too many Republicans, one is left to wonder how long a man of Huntsman’s intelligence and international experience will be able to [remain an untarnished and energized candidate]". Besides, 17 other Republican politicians are mentioned as potential candidates for the presidential bid as well.

For Europe, one of the most important questions is how far Huntsman could change the Republican Party. In a very interesting post, American author James McGregor estimates that Huntsman will have to "McCainize", to move far to the right to win the Republican bid. Where will it take him? You may remember that Republicans and Democrats alike based a considerable part of their last election campaign on China bashing. Will the Republicans now accept a mind as open as Jon Huntsman? And are they going to accept a candidate who worked for the Obama administration?

I guess before Huntsman can close any cultural gaps to China, he has to close a pretty big gap within his own party.

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