Commentary Magazine


Huntsman for Secretary of State?

The internal drama of the Huntsman campaign revealed today was, many people reasoned, a good story struggling desperately to find an audience. After all, with Huntsman polling closer to zero than to any of the top candidates for the Republican nomination, even a complete implosion of his campaign would barely register an impact on the race.

Well, Daniel Drezner has done the story’s author–Jonathan Martin–a favor. Drezner, writing at his blog, says we should “expect decent odds that Huntsman would be the secretary of state in any incoming GOP administration (quick, name me an alternate candidate with sufficient gravitas). Even if he’s a sideshow to the current GOP nomination, he wouldn’t be if a Republican won in 2012. A story like this, on the other hand, might not help his chances to land a cabinet post.”

This raises an interesting question. The most commonly offered justification for Huntsman’s campaign is to raise his national profile enough for a run in 2016 if President Obama is reelected. But what if he left his post as ambassador to China early, expecting neither to be president in 2013 or 2017, but rather to angle his way into a Republican administration in 2013?

I’m not sure I’m ready to buy into this. While it makes sense Huntsman could be a leading candidate for secretary of state, couldn’t he have been so without leaving his former job? In fact, you could argue he might have been better off staying put. Being current ambassador to China is better than being former ambassador to China if a Republican wins the 2012 election. And it would allow him to hedge his bets; if Obama is reelected, something tells me Huntsman isn’t the first choice to get his old ambassadorship back, and he’d never be secretary of state in a Democratic administration. (Or perhaps he could be–but not after quitting on the president to run against him.)

One other obstacle for Huntsman: his foreign policy views, while not in Ron Paul territory, are far from those of the GOP’s two front-runners—Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. In some cases, they’re closer to Obama’s. I’m not sure this makes him completely radioactive to the eventual GOP nominee—this is the State Department, not DoD—but foreign policy hawks would almost certainly oppose his nomination.

Drezner also notes we shouldn’t necessarily discount Huntsman even now, since Hillary Clinton’s campaign was arguably even less organized than Huntsman’s, and she is, of course, the secretary of state. But I can’t help thinking if Huntsman’s real hope was to run the State Department in any administration, he has not done much to bring him closer to his goal.