Top Obama adviser David Axelrod has signaled over the past few days that the awkward peace between the administration and former Utah Republican Governor Jon Huntsman — who served as Obama’s Ambassador to China until April and will announce that he’s running for president tomorrow — is coming to an end.
In a series of interviews, Axelrod has openly gone after Huntsman’s image as a truth-telling conservative. First, he told The New York Times that Huntsman told him in January that all the talk about a presidential campaign was “overblown.” “He said, ‘I don’t know where this is all coming from,’ ”he said.
Then, during an interview with CNN yesterday, Axelrod said that Ambassador Huntsman “was encouraging on health care.”
Republican primary voters will definitely be thrilled to hear that one.
But what was once seen as a genius political move–sidelining Huntsman in China–may have only burnished his credentials:
The president’s aides had by then identified Mr. Huntsman, a rising star of the Republican Party, as a potentially strong opponent in 2012. And Mr. Obama’s team basked in accolades among political strategists for taking Mr. Huntsman out of the mix and packing him off some 7,000 miles away.
Mr. Huntsman’s time in China has indeed created a potential roadblock for his campaign; Mr. Obama has teased him publicly about how his service in the administration will play among the Republican faithful.
But in some ways it has proved to be a help. It has bolstered his position as the only candidate in a field dominated by former governors to have direct foreign policy experience. And it put him in proximity to some of the nation’s leading chief executives — and potential campaign donors and fund-raisers — as they sought assistance in doing business with China.
Huntsman obviously had signaled to friends and advisers to prep a run, with a political operation already assembled by former John McCain strategist John Weaver when he returned home this spring. Whether the White House erred in lending him gravitas–and credibility–on foreign policy, or whether he in fact will be rejected by a Republican base that loathes cooperation with the president is the central question behind his nascent candidacy. [The New York Times]