If former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman seeks the Republican nomination for President in 2012, the soon-to-be former ambassador to China will be the first Republican candidate to have served as ambassador to a foreign capital under a Democratic President since Henry Cabot Lodge in 1964.
Lodge, former Massachusetts senator and 1960 GOP vice presidential nominee, had been U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He was actually on duty in Saigon when a group of young moderate activists put together a write-in campaign through which the ambassador won the New Hampshire primary.
Although he eventually resigned his position and returned home to be available for nomination, Lodge did little in the GOP contest beyond the dramatic victory in New Hampshire.
As Huntsman prepares to return home from his stint in Beijing, it is difficult to conceive of the multimillionaire businessman, former two-term governor, and mandarin going much farther than Lodge did—or even winning the New Hampshire primary, as Lodge did (and that was achieved through the efforts of surrogates).
Leaving aside the fact that Huntsman has worked for nearly two years for the Democrat Republicans most dislike, the Utahan is not embraced by cultural conservatives, an increasingly influential group within the GOP. As governor, Huntsman supported civil unions between gay couples when most within the Beehive State Republican Party opposed the concept.
Gary Herbert, who was Huntsman’s lieutenant governor and succeeded him as governor in ’09, told HUMAN EVENTS as he prepared to assume the governorship in ’09 that in spite of a good personal relationship, “I disagree on a few areas with Gov. Huntsman. But we tolerate differences of opinion in the Republican Party out here.”
Herbert specifically brought up the issue of civil unions and noted, “We have passed a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage and things akin to it. Now I do believe that people ought to be treated with respect regardless of sexual orientation. But all the benefits one gets from a civil union can already be achieved by seeing an attorney and drawing up documents.”
Herbert also cited his ticket mate’s belief in global warming and position on cap and trade as an area in which the two friends differed. In Herbert’s words, “I’m not as big on global warming as he is. … I’m not inclined to develop policy based on unproven science. Let genuine science dictate our course and not ideology.”
Herbert pointed out that, like most Republicans in Utah, he backed Mitt Romney for President in 2008. But Huntsman, he noted, backed the more moderate John McCain.
Huntsman’s image as a self-styled “moderating voice” in the Republican Party led to an embarrassing situation in ’09. After he was invited to be the speaker at the annual the Kent County Republican dinner, Huntsman found himself “disinvited” by then-GOP County Chairman Joanne Voorhees, based on her belief that the governor’s support of civil unions was “the exact opposite” of the voters’ desire to “stand on principle and return to our roots.”
Michigan State Republican Chairman Ron Weiser promptly invited Huntsman to speak at a state party event and said, “Gov. Huntsman has made Republican solutions on job growth a reality—something Michigan Republicans have failed to do.”
That would seem, in 2012, to be an issue that could trump both cultural issues and cap and trade in the Republican Party. But whether the former is enough for Republican activists to excuse Jon Huntsman for seeking to be a “moderating voice” in a party that is increasingly more synonomous with conservatism is another story.