Trump Seeks to Allay Russia Criticism with New Ambassador

Former ambassador Jon Huntsman gives a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, April 29, 2014
Former ambassador Jon Huntsman gives a speech at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, April 29, 2014 (ImageLink Photography/Dennis Kan)

Former China ambassador Jon Huntsman is the latest Russia hawk to join the Donald Trump Administration.

If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman would succeed John F. Tefft as the American ambassador in Moscow.

Other appointments sure to trouble the Kremlin include Defense Secretary James Mattis, National Security Advisor Herbert Raymond McMaster and the White House senior director for Europe and Russia, Fiona Hill. All have been critical of Vladimir Putin.

Their elevations may be a way for Trump to allay criticism of ties between his advisors and Russia. Read more

Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group

Former Republican governor of Utah Jon Huntsman
Former Republican governor of Utah Jon Huntsman (Facebook/Jon Huntsman)

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is forming a political action committee to help elect moderate Republicans in the United States and giving himself a platform to influence the party’s direction ahead of the next presidential election.

Huntsman, also a former China ambassador, ran unsuccessfully for the Republicans’ presidential nomination in 2011 and has since repeatedly cautioned conservatives that they risk alienating the majority of voters whose views increasingly favor Democrats.

“The very survival of the party is based on our ability to really begin to define the real issues that we confront and to begin a dialogue of problem solving around them,” he told Politico. Read more

Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat

Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana speaks in New Orleans, June 27, 2011
Republican governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana speaks in New Orleans, June 27, 2011 (Marine Forces Reserve)

Republican Mitt Romney’s defeat in last week’s presidential election in the United States has opened the discussion to who might run in the party’s primary for the election of 2016. Several of the men who contested this year’s nomination may have another go at it four years from now as could a number of prominent Republicans who were urged to run or rumored to be considering to but ultimately decided against it.

After losing two presidential elections in a row with men whom many conservatives considered right of center at best, their instinct will be to push for a more reactionary candidate in the next primary election. To the extent that the party needs to nominate someone who can clearly and convincingly article Republican governing philosophy, that instinct is correct. Neither John McCain nor Mitt Romney was able to reach beyond the party’s shrinking base constituency and make the case for free enterprise and limited government.

Whether the party shouldn’t moderate its positions on cultural issues is more doubtful. Denying climate change, arguing that abortion should be criminalized even for rape victims and gay partnerships not legally recognized in any way isn’t going to endear the party to middle-class and young voters who might lean right — or will, once they own a home and have a family — but are appalled by some conservatives’ uncompromising social views. The party’s hardline immigration policy, which seems more focused on keeping illegal immigrants out than getting ambitious and hardworking people in, worries especially Hispanic voters of whom 44 percent voted for George W. Bush in 2004 but just 27 percent threw their support behind Mitt Romney this year. Read more

Huntsman Urges Rethink of Republican Program

Former Republican governor of Utah Jon Huntsman is interviewed in Lexington, Virginia, February 10
Former Republican governor of Utah Jon Huntsman is interviewed in Lexington, Virginia, February 10 (Tom Wolff)

If Mitt Romney loses November’s election, the Republican Party risks falling into disarray. Even if he wins, the party will have to redefine the meaning of Republicanism if it is to keep its increasingly divergent constituencies united.

Thus predicted Jon Huntsman, former Republican presidential candidate, during a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC earlier this month. “You got to project vision and some principles that some people hear and can sense are real and consistent with our time and place in history and we’re not there yet.”

Huntsman argued that conservatives should be particularly alarmed by demographic shifts that are unfavorable to them. “You have to stay consistent with demographic changes if you’re going to be a viable party,” he said.

More than 90 percent of black Americans consistently votes for Democrats. Among Hispanic Americans, there are more conservative voters but they are still in the minority and their bloc isn’t growing.

Hispanics voted two to one for Barack Obama in 2008 and three to two against George W. Bush in 2004. They comprised 7.4 percent of the electorate four years ago but 15 percent of the population. Both rates are expected to rise as a result of higher birth rates and immigration from Latin American countries.

Republicans could have an advantage in that Hispanic voters, many of them Catholics, are more socially conservative than other racial minorities but it’s the party’s very social conservatism that’s driving white middle class as well as young voters to the left.

Huntsman distanced himself from his party’s more uncompromising cultural views when he ran for the presidential nomination late last year. He supported civil unions for gay couples and argued that the party shouldn’t deny climate change. “The minute that the Republican Party becomes the anti-science party, we have a huge problem,” he told ABC’s This Week.

More than 80 percent of Americans believes that global warming is real. A slim majority is of the opinion that human activity contributes to it. More Americans now support gay marriage than don’t. An overwhelming 67 percent of Americans favored letting gays serve openly in the military. On all three issues, public opinion favors Democrats over Republicans. But Huntsman proved in Utah that seizing the center ground isn’t necessarily a losing position for Republicans.

When he left the governorship of what is the most conservative state in the union to become ambassador to China, Huntsman enjoyed an 80 percent approval rating, in spite of his advocacy for climate change legislation and support of gay rights. He vastly improved Utah’s business climate and schools. In both areas, he pursued conservative policies: cut taxes, cut regulations and pushed vouchers to give children from poor families the opportunity to study at private institutions.

Republican governors like Chris Christie in New Jersey, Mitch Daniels in Indiana, Bobby Jindal in Louisiana and Scott Walker in Wisconsin, whom The Wall Street Journal‘s Kimberley Strassel described as the “vanguard” of the conservative movement, are currently pursuing the very policies that Huntsman pioneered.

The same newspaper endorsed Jon Huntsman’s economic plan for the nation in September of last year, praising its proposed tax reforms and energy policy.

Huntsman’s supply-side orthodoxy is perfectly in sync with contemporary Republican rhetoric which, as Politico pointed out last month, “is dismissive of any positive role for government that makes the ‘compassionate conservative’ ideas of George W. Bush seem like a very distant echo.” His cultural liberalism, however, though acceptable to the party’s libertarian element, is anathema to the religious right which has set Republican social policy for a generation.

When Republicans start losing elections, social conservatives may be persuaded that they will have to moderate their expectations. It was, after all, the stalwart of the American conservative movement William F. Buckley who urged them to vote for the most conservative candidate — who could win. But as the moment seems to favor Republicans because of their economic and fiscal policies, it may take more than a single election defeat for them to pay serious attention to the likes of Jon Huntsman.

Republicans Alarmed by Romney’s China Policy

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event, August 12, 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event, August 12, 2012 (Monkeyz_uncle)

Republicans are starting to worry about their presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s fulminations on Chinese trade policy. The former Massachusetts governor, who will challenge the incumbent Barack Obama for the presidency this November, has fiercely criticized what he described as the Democrat’s “trade surrender” and promises to “crack down on cheaters like China.”

Last week in Virginia, Romney said, “I want to make sure that if a nation cheats like China has cheated, we call them on the carpet and don’t let it continue.” Previously, he accused the Chinese of “predatory pricing” and currency manipulation. “They simply cannot continue stealing our jobs,” he said during a debate late last year.

Politico reports that such rhetoric “may play well in the Rust Belt, where automobile and other manufacturers are especially vulnerable to China’s trade policies and there’s wariness of Obama’s less confrontational approach” but few Republicans and big business donors believe that he will follow through if elected.

And if he did, many analysts say, he’d likely spark a disastrous and counterproductive trade war that would hurt both American consumers and the workers he says he’s trying to protect. But Romney advisors say voters shouldn’t expect him to back off the tough talk if he gets elected and other experts say fears of a “trade war” are overblown since the Chinese need the American market just as much consumers like cheap Chinese imports.

The Republican leader in the House of Representatives John Boehner, a congressman from the industrial state of Ohio, this summer blocked legislation that aimed to force the Chinese into devaluating their currency which would have increased the price of Chinese exports. “Congress passing a law outlining stringent requirements for dealing with the Chinese and the value of the currency, I think, is inappropriate,” he said at the time.

Jon Huntsman, a former American ambassador to China who campaigned for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination himself until January when he endorsed Romney, warned in an interview with CNN this month that the latter’s China policy could instigate a trade war. “If you’re going to take on China on one issue,” he said, “then you better be prepared for the response.”

Huntsman pointed out that previous presidential candidates chastised China, including Barack Obama who urged George W. Bush in 2008 to boycott the Olympic Games in Beijing. “The difference today is, unlike any other election cycle, the United States and China are on the world stage. It was only the United States on the world stage before.” Now the two powers are moving to parity which changes the dynamic.

It isn’t as simple as just poking around the economic side. Yes, they’re manipulating their currency but they’re also appreciating the renminbi about 5 percent per year if you factor in inflation.

Since 2005, when the Chinese renminbi was depegged from the dollar, the value of the currency was actually increased more than 30 percent. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geither has pointed out that “Chinese inflation is probably going to be more than twice, three times American inflation rates for a long time to come.” As a result, exchange rates, in real terms, are appreciating “at roughly a pace of about 10 percent a year,” he added. “And that’s a very substantial material change.”

Democrats and Republican nevertheless insist that the renminbi‘s value should appreciate faster. President Obama has said that the Chinese currency is “undervalued” and should be “increasingly driven by the market.” And it was Democratic senator Charles Schumer who questioned Speaker Boehner’s resistance to raising tariffs on Chinese imports. “For some inexplicable reason, the Republican leadership in the House is siding with the Chinese government,” he lamented last year. “The Chinese only understand one thing — being tough.”

Huntsman disagreed. In an interview with Charlie Rose in February, he stressed the disparity between how Americans view China and how the Chinese see their own country.

We look at China and we see 1.3 billion people, the second largest economy in the world, largest consumer of electricity, the largest emitter, so on. […] They look at China and they see seven hundred million people still living in poverty.

China’s leaders are also aware if not apprehensive of the “vast income disequilibrium between the haves and the have nots,” he said. Because the country is so dependent on exports to the West, its political class worries that a reduction in protectionist measures, including letting the renminbi freely, will hurt the competitiveness of their manufacturers and reduce economic growth — while growth has legitimized single party rule in recent decades.

Rather than forcing the Chinese to lessen their dependence on exports at a time of heightened tension in East and South China Sea disputes — a shift that China’s leaders are trying to achieve anyway — Huntsman suggested on CNN that the wiser strategy would be to let the natural development of China’s economy play out. Once the Chinese start saving less and spend more, he predicted, “that means greater exports from the United States which is a job creator right here at home.”

A Romney campaign advisor interviewed by Politico didn’t see it that way. “You have to look at how much we buy from China and how much they buy from us,” he or she said. “Those numbers are a very serious deterrent to the Chinese pursuing retribution against us.” But that works both ways. China and the United States are economically interdependent. As Huntsman pointed out, if the United States initiate pressure or sanctions or tariffs, “the response is going to be punitive on their part.”

Huntsman: Romney Missed Foreign Policy Opportunity

Former China ambassador Jon Huntsman questioned his fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s criticism of the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy on Friday after nearly a week of unrest across the Muslim world in which four American diplomats were killed.

“I think there’s a lot to the criticism,” Huntsman told NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell. Democrats have chastised Romney for describing the government’s response to the violent demonstrations outside the American embassy in Cairo, Egypt as “disgraceful” because it did not initially “condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions but [chose] to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.”

While agitators were storming the walls of the embassy compound in the Egyptian capital on Tuesday, the embassy issued a statement that read in part, “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” referring to an anti-Islam film in which the Prophet Muhammad was mocked that allegedly stirred the unrest.

The embassy quickly retracted the statement. The next day, it was reported that the American ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff had died in an attack on the consulate in the city of Benghazi that night. President Barack Obama condemned the incident later in the day. “No acts of terror,” he vowed, “will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, also on Tuesday, insisted that there was no justification for the violent demonstrations in Benghazi and Cairo. “Violence like this is no way to honor religion or faith.”

Huntsman, who himself ran for the party’s presidential nomination until January when he endorsed Romney, said that his candidate had missed a chance “articulate America’s goals in the region.” He shouldn’t deal “with the tactical issues playing out,” rather “the long-term strategic play. What do we want in the region?”

Americans don’t know what our interest are in the Middle East and what we’re going to do to protect them.

Huntsman rejected the possibility of cutting off foreign aid as a “cheap political line” when aid is useful is a lever. “You’ve got to use aid in pursuit of America’s interests,” he said.

Although he was ranked as one of the most conservative chief executives in the country while he served as governor of Utah between 2005 and 2009, Huntsman did not attend this year’s Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida where Romney was formally nominated for the presidency. He said that he was frustrated about his party’s unwillingness to confront the “bigger” issues facing the United States. He added, “I encourage a return to the party we have been in the past, from Lincoln right on through to Reagan, that was always willing to put our country before politics.”

Huntsman Predicts China Won’t “Play by Rules” Soon

America’s former ambassador to China on Monday said the rising nation was not going to “play by the rules” as long as there’s uncertainty in their major exports markets.

Jon Huntsman, who was a candidate for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination until January of this year when he left the race and endorsed Mitt Romney, was Barack Obama’s ambassador in Beijing for two years.

On Charlie Rose, he pointed out the disparity between how Americans view China and how the Chinese see their own country.

We look at China and we see 1.3 billion people, the second largest economy in the world, largest consumer of electricity, the largest emitter, so on. You know, $3 trillion in the central bank. They look at China and they see seven hundred million people still living in poverty.

Chinese leaders also see a “vast income disequilibrium between the haves and the have nots,” said Huntsman. While the United States urge China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the world system and abide by international trade agreements, policymakers in Beijing worry what effect a reduction in protectionist measures would have on their people’s incomes and economic growth — especially as the mounting prosperity in China is the main if not sole legitimizing force of the Communist Party’s rule.

China’s currency manipulation is a particular source of frustration in bilateral relations. The Americans complain that Beijing keeps its money underpriced and with it, Chinese exports. Although the value of the renminbi has appreciated by more than 50 percent compared to the dollar since 2005, President Barack Obama insists that the Chinese currency is “undervalued” and should be “increasingly driven by the market.”

Because China is so dependent on exports, it cannot afford to let its currency appreciate at a steeper pace without hurting manufacturers.

Premier Wen Jiabao warned last year that a sudden increase in the yuan‘s value would bring “disaster” to China. “Factories will shut down and society will be in turmoil,” he said. Relatively small price changes, whether driven by monetary policy or increased labor costs in China, could convince companies to move production elsewhere while hundreds of millions of Chinese still want factory jobs. So “of course” the government has reason to fear social unrest, said Huntsman.

The country also faces an enormous demographic challenge that may cut its economic trajectory short once four hundred million Chinese have retired by the middle of this century — more than America’s total projected population by the time. This helps explain China’s trepidation about securing resources abroad and building national champion industries that can employ millions whether there is growth or crisis in the West.

“Do they want to abide by the rules of the road? Not yet,” according to Huntsman. “Not until there’s greater certainty and clarity in terms of what the global economy looks like. Because it all comes down to one word — stability.”