Barack Obama’s decision to nominate Jon Huntsman as the US ambassador to China is classic Obama. Huntsman is the Republican governor of Utah and was widely expected to make a run for his party’s nomination in 2012. Unlike a lot of other Republican politicians Huntsman has kept his eye on the general electorate rather than just thinking about how best to stroke the base. For that reason, he would have been a more formidable opponent for Obama in 2012 than many of the other names being bandied about. But Huntsman is now out of the running for 2012 and will no longer be making his necessary arguments for reform.
Huntsman is well qualified to be US ambassador to China. He speaks Mandarin, has experience on trade issues as a deputy trade ambassador under Bush 43 and knows the region as the ambassador to Singapore under Bush 41.
For Obama the upside is considerable. Not only does he get a well qualified ambassador, take a potential 2012 rival out the game and weaken the Republican party but he gets to look bipartisan while doing it. If Huntsman still has the presidential itch he will return for the 2016 cycle with formidable foreign policy chops and might find a Republican party more receptive to his message. (Also if Mitt Romney, who like Huntsman is a Mormon, wins the party’s nomination in 2012, the Mormon issue might be less of a problem for Huntsman in 2016 than it was for Romney in 2008).
The only loser in all this is the Republican party. And that’s just the way Obama and his Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who brokered the appointment, like it.