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 “Trump Seeks to Allay Russia Criticism with New Ambassador”

Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group

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 “Former Candidate Huntsman Launches Political Group”

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 hard-working 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 “Republicans Look for New Leader After Election Defeat”

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

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. Read more “Republicans Alarmed by Romney’s China Policy”

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.”

Huntsman Exits Presidential Race, Romney Victory Likely

Different American news media reported Sunday evening, based on sources close to his campaign, that Jon Huntsman plans to announce on Monday that he’s ending his bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The removal of content, including anti-Romney web videos, from his campaign site suggests that the former American ambassador to China intends to endorse the frontrunner for president.

Despite a better than expected third place finish in New Hampshire’s primary last week, Huntsman’s campaign struggled to appeal to right-wing voters. Although he governed as a staunch conservative in the state of Utah, where he cut taxes and reformed health care without an individual mandate as Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts, Huntsman ran as a moderate who could win independent and conservative Democrat voters in a general election.

Huntsman said climate change was real; many conservatives are skeptical of that. He supported civil unions for gay couples; a majority of Republican voters does not. His service as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China was also deemed suspect and it was Romney who criticized him for it during the last televised debate before the New Hampshire primary.

Huntsman’s rebuttal — “This nation is divided because of attitudes like that” — won him praise and momentum in the first in the nation primary election but he still fell short of beating libertarian congressman Ron Paul for second place. Romney carried the state with a resounding 40 percent of the vote.

Huntsman’s departure from the race should enable Romney to claim the center-right vote while three of his remaining contenders vie for second place in the early primary state of South Carolina this weekend.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas governor Rick Perry have both vehemently criticized Romney’s record as a businessman, airing television commercials that depict him as a cruel and callous capitalist while questioning the number of jobs he claims to have created as an investor. Gingrich further argues that Romney is too moderate to represent the Republican Party in November while Perry and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who rivaled Romney for a win in Iowa’s caucuses, run as social conservatives.

Perry’s campaign is in dire straits. If the Texan fails to do well in South Carolina, which is more conservative than both New Hampshire and Florida, where the primary race moves next, he will be hard pressed to convince Republican voters that he’s a viable contender.

Gingrich’s and Perry’s attacks on Romney’s business record have not exactly improved their standing with the Republican electorate. The Wall Street Journal, a pro-business newspaper, described their tactics as “desperate.” Other conservative commentators have pointed out that their attacks are of the sort that President Obama will likely deploy against Romney in a general election. It makes their candidacies seem all the more far-fetched.

Paul and Santorum are unlikely nominees because they represent the fringes of the party. Santorum did win the support of evangelical leaders over the weekend and may yet pose a threat to Romney if he consolidates the social conservative vote. In a race against Barack Obama, however, he would all but guarantee the president’s reelection because of his strong positions on abortion, family and gay rights

Huntsman was maybe the only more electable candidate than Mitt Romney. His blend of conservative economic policy, foreign policy realism and reluctance to engage in “culture wars” could have endeared him to centrist voters who would rather vote for the president if Rick Perry or Rick Santorum is the Republican candidate.

After New Hampshire, Will Huntsman Finally Rise?

Jon Huntsman’s promise to “put country first” appears to have resonated with conservative and independent voters. The former Utah governor surged to third place with 17 percent of the vote in New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary, meeting rather than beating “market expectations,” as he put it, but proving that his campaign is viable.

Huntsman, who was mired in single digits in preelection polls for months, built momentum ahead of the vote on Tuesday after criticizing the frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for “putting politics before country.”

Romney had attacked Huntsman for serving as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China while the other candidates were working to oppose the Democrat’s agenda at home. Huntsman would have nothing of it. “This nation is divided,” he said during a televised debate on Sunday morning, “because of attitudes like that.”

The Huntsman campaign capitalized on the applause line with advertisements that touted his willingness to serve his nation even if it was for a president of the other party. Romney’s lead shrunk mildly but he still won with nearly 40 percent of the vote. After contesting first place in Iowa, where Romney hadn’t actively campaigned, his nomination seems just as inevitable as it did a week ago.

If Huntsman is to challenge him, he will have to do well in South Carolina. The southeastern state that is next in the primary contest is considered very conservative although its Republican governor was elected with just 51 percent of the vote in 2010. She has endorsed Mitt Romney for the nomination but her approval rating has plummeted to 34 percent in recent surveys.

44 percent of South Carolinians identify as Republicans but the state is also home to a sizable body of independent voters who are able to participate in the primary election on January 21. In New Hampshire, Huntsman was by far the favorite among moderate and liberal voters. This, he argues, proves that he’s more electable than the other contenders. “We’ve actually got to convince people who supported Barack Obama last time to support us if we’re going to win the presidency,” he said Tuesday.

Romney is ahead in the polls in the first Southern primary at 36 percent with former House speaker and native Georgian in second place at 24 percent. Texas governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who rivaled Romney for first place in last week’s Iowa caucuses, both hope to appeal to the state’s evangelical voters and social conservatives while libertarian congressman Ron Paul, who came in second in New Hampshire, further splits the vote with his isolationist foreign policy and advocacy of limited government.

Huntsman is stuck at the bottom of the polls in South Carolina but they have been volatile for the last couple of months there. Gingrich once polled over 40 percent while Santorum only surged to 20 percent after his Iowa victory in early January. Gingrich’s demise has been similarly dramatic in Florida where he once touched 45 percent only to drop below Romney’s support in recent weeks who has been at 30 percent for more than six months.

Florida’s primary on January 31 is the first that is closed to registered Republicans and all of the state’s fifty delegates to the convention in Tampa in August will be awarded to whoever comes in first. Iowa’s, New Hampshire’s and South Carolina’s delegates, by contrast, are distributed proportionately among the top tier candidates.

Nevada’s caucuses in early February will also be closed to registered Republicans. Romney carried the state with an absolute majority when he ran for the nomination in 2008. The Mormon population in Nevada could help either Huntsman or Romney, both members of the church that’s headquartered in Salt Lake City.

Huntsman, who governed in neighboring Utah between 2005 and 2009, polls in single digits in Nevada and would have to convince right-wing voters that in spite of his nonconfrontational style and support among centrist voters, he is truly one of them. He certainly governed as a conservative in Utah where he implemented a flat tax and brought the unemployment rate down to an historic 2.3 percent.

In terms of party affiliation, Utah is the most Republican state in the country. Huntsman’s popularity there hit 90 percent at times and he left office to become ambassador in China with an approval rating over 80 percent.

If, as expected, Huntsman doesn’t do well in South Carolina’s primary, his nomination probably hinges on claiming first or second place in Florida and Nevada where Romney currently has the advantage in terms of fundraising and organization. Romney’s is the only campaign that is prepared for a protracted nomination battle with activists and offices already in place in states that don’t vote until March. Huntsman doesn’t have much of a presence in South Carolina yet.

Huntsman Needs Surge in First Primary Vote

To remain a competitive contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, Jon Huntsman needs to beat “market expectations,” as he puts it, in the early primary state of New Hampshire on Tuesday where he has campaigned the most intensely of any of the right’s candidates in recent months.

Utah’s previous governor skipped last week’s Iowa caucuses where former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, the most socially conservative candidate in the race, rivaled frontrunner Mitt Romney for first place. Huntsman doesn’t just challenge Romney’s conservative credentials but also tries to portray himself as a more electable candidate to run against Barack Obama in November.

Democrats and voters registered as independent are able to participate in next week’s New Hampshire contest which Huntsman hopes will boost his election prospects and give him the momentum necessary to expand his campaign into Florida and Nevada which vote January 31 and February 4 respectively.

Recent polls have Huntsman, Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich fighting for third place in New Hampshire, behind Romney, who enjoys a 20 point lead, and libertarian congressman Ron Paul, who appeals to roughly 20 percent of voters in the “live free or die” state.

After running as a center-right candidate and failing to gain traction, Huntsman now argues that he’s the real small-government conservative in the race. “I think I’m the only one on the stage who’s embraced the Ryan plan,” he said Sunday morning, referring to Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize health care for seniors.

In Utah, Huntsman cut the state income tax to help fuel business growth which, by 2007, had brought its jobless rate down to an unprecedented 2.3 percent. The resulting surge in revenue allowed the state to avoid making painful spending cuts during the downturn but make investments instead which boosted Huntsman’s approval rating above 90 percent in one of the most conservative parts of the country.

Asked during an NBC News debate in Concord, New Hampshire how his plan to reduce government spending to 19 percent of gross domestic product would incur “real pain” on Americans, Huntsman mentioned defense and Social Security. He advocates withdrawal from Afghanistan and supports means testing for Social Security which would deny wealthy Americans public pension coverage.

“I don’t want to be nation building in Southwest Asia when this nation is in such need of repair,” Huntsman said. He estimated that a residual force of some 10,000 personnel would suffice to carry out special operations and counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan but doesn’t believe a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy is vital to American interests.

Asking the night before during a debate hosted by ABC News why he would make a better commander-in-chief than his fellow contenders, Huntsman argued that he best understands “the complex national-security implications that we will face going forward with what is, we all know, the most complex and challenging relationship of the twenty-first century, that of China.”

As President Barack Obama’s ambassador in Beijing for one and a half year and ambassador to Singapore under George H.W. Bush, Huntsman should have a keener understanding of America’s position in East Asia than the other presidential candidates.

“I believe this nation is looking for not only leadership but leadership that can be trusted,” Huntsman added. He argues that the United States suffer not only from an economic deficit but a trust deficit. “We must find not just a commander-in-chief, not just a president, not just a visionary, but we’ve got find somebody who can reform Congress,” he said. “We’ve got to close the revolving door that’s corrupted Washington.”

Huntsman’s plans for congressional term limits and Wall Street reform have drawn applause but it’s an argument similar to one former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney tries to make when he touts his business record. “This, for me, politics, is not a career,” he said Sunday morning. “I think we ought to have people to go Washington and serve the people of their nation and go home. I’d like to see term limits in Washington,” too.