President Obama has an awesome new strategy for dealing with Republican leadership: send 'em to China. Meet Republican former Utah Governor, and now, Obama appointee Jon Huntsman Jr.
Jon Huntsman, a seventh-generation resident of Utah, has been the Beehive State's governor for the last five years. His old man, Jon Huntsman Sr., is like him, a very prominent member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but unlike him, was a staffer under the Nixon administration.
Huntsman Sr. has eight kids and 70 - count 'em, 70 - grandkids. Jon Huntsman Jr. has seven kids, one of whom (Gracie Mei, which, in all honesty, is actually a pretty cute name for a kid) was adopted from China. Diplomacy!
Huntsman's political resume runs deep: staffer for Reagan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush, and was a deputy trade representative under Dubya for two years, which must've been kinda excruciating, even as a high-ranking Republican. His experience in Asia also has its roots starting early on: the LDS mission he took as a young (Hunts)man was to (what Top of the Ticket called "the other China") Taiwan. He's one of those guys who took the advice to be "fluent in Mandarin" very early on.
Jon Boy's record for scandal is - like many an LDS politician - unsurprisingly clean. His voting record, however, has pissed off a bunch of people. Mainly, other Republicans. Even though he supports Senate resolutions against same-sex marriages [insert Hunts-man joke here], he's supported civil unions, which, where he's from: ain't cool. Like many Utah politicians, he's pretty pro-environment. One time, he publicly bitched out his own state party for not confirming a state appeals court nominee. He is, for all intents and purposes, a moderate Republican, especially coming from the land of (perpetually elected LDS shadeball) Orrin Hatch. Considered the state Republicans are in, he's relatively well liked in the party, though he did once co-chair an unsuccessful campaign for the presidency: John McCain's. You might've heard of it?
Which brings us to the political upshot to this thing, which there's a shitload of, and this is the talking point everyone's going to be rolling over the next few days. First, Utah's pretty much stunned: check out Mormon-mouthpiece paper Deseret News' jaw-to-floor filing on the appointment if you want to get a sense of what the climate there's like right now. Mainly: Huntsman was viewed by many as a potential candidate for the 2012 Republican ticket against Obama, especially since he'd already announced his intent to not run for Utah's governorship in 2012. Notes Politico:
"Viewed purely through the lens of 2012 politics, the move looks like political genius by the White House: It's like John Edwards or John Kerry joining the Bush administration in 2001."
And it is a pretty brilliant move on Obama's part. If Huntsman has a shot at the presidency, he's gonna have it until he takes it (i.e. it's seriously doubtful that Huntsman could really do anything to blemish his record and make him a less viable candidate in 2012 as he would be in 2016, when it's gonna really count). Huntsman didn't exactly have a difficult election to win in Utah: his record as a moderate had yet to be established in his first election, and in his second, last year, he kicked the shit out of his Democratic opponent, "Sideshow" Bob Springmeyer. He was polling above a 75% approval rate in Salt Lake City, and SLC - sorry, but: home to Hipster Grifter Kari Ferrell - is the most liberal place in Utah. Also, Utah hasn't had a Democrat in the Gov's office since 1985.
The list of ambassadors to China to come before Hunstman isn't too exciting, with exception to one name: George H.W. Bush. He was president once. See where we're going with this?
Finally, trivia fun. Huntsman's a Dream Theater fan, and (in maybe the only true lose-lose blemish on his political record) named July 30, 2007 "Dream Theater Day" in Utah. He also once jammed on the keys with REO Speedwagon at the Utah State Fair once. Thankfully, he's not going to China as a cultural envoy.
Bottom line: Hunstman's confirmation is a non-issue. There might not actually be a better guy out there for the job. He's passionate about China for both personal, political, and occupationally-oriented reasons. He's a moderate, even-keeled politician (party lines on voting issues aside). And despite the requisite Republican huffing (which they'll get over), both Huntsman and Obama get the closest thing to a political win-win from this.
Obama naming Huntsman ambassador to China [Politico]
Huntsman tapped: Obama's selection of China envoy sets off a political furor [Deseret News]
Obama names Republican governor as envoy to China [Reuters via TPM]