Jon Hunstman, Jr., the former Utah governor and Obama appointee as US Ambassador to China--and 2012 candidate for the Republican presidential nomination--has been cited in Washington Beltway gossip as a possible successor to Timothy Geitner as Secretary of the Treasury. Hunstman was at the University of Washington in Seattle this past Tuesday to speak to a audience of some five hundred students and townspeople gathered by the National Bureau of Asian Research, Discovery Institute and the World Affairs Council. In a private talk later Huntsman politely dodged a question about the Treasury post that Mr. Geitner is expected to vacate in the new year. "Laughable speculation," he termed it. However, he followed that with a version of the familiar assertion that every citizen should be prepared to serve his country when called upon.
In his remarks, furthermore, and on other occasions Huntsman certainly presented himself as a fan of the newly elected President. He stresses his"optimism" about "the direction the country is heading." He exhibits contempt for the no-new-taxes pledge promoted by Grover Norquist and which, in two terms as governor of Utah, he declined to sign. He expresses exasperation with "Congress" for failing to pass a budget over the past three years. And he happily acknowledges that his comments may make him unwelcome at a Republican convention in the future.
All of this is probably helpful to his prospects for nomination as a successor to Geitner. A Republican serving as Treasury Secretary would give some cover to the Administration's tax and spend policies.
However, though Huntsman is wealthy (his father is a billionaire) and has business experience, it's not clear that he is the economics hand the President would want. Further, his seeming resentment against Republicans from his primary run might come to appear as revenge--and stiffen GOP opposition to Obamanomics rather than assuaging it. A more fitting job for Huntsman might be Secretary of State.
It is widely assumed that UN Ambassador Susan Rice may not be nominated to the State post. Opposition has come from the left as well as the right and is based on a perceived inability to think for herself in representing the Administration after the Benghazi attack. A Rice confirmation hearing would give Republicans a chance to review in detail the way the Benghazi analysis transpired and who in the White House may have edited Rice's talking points before she went on five national TV programs.
However, the next choice, Sen. John Kerry, is also coming under criticism because of his meetings with US enemies in Paris during the Vietnam War and some of the statements he made then about supposed war crimes by US soldiers in general. In other words, Kerry also could have problems getting confirmed for Defense or State. (Admittedly, his odds would be much better than Rice's.) In any case, Huntsman probably would do well as an skilled alternative.
Hunstman probably understands China as well as anyone in government today and has a friendly but realistic attitude toward what is both our largest trading partner and most puissant potential military rival. He also knows the rest of the world and clearly has the combination of diplomatic and political skills that a Secretary of State requires. He would be popular on trade issues where Obama, not needing future united union backing, could stand to forge better relations with the business community.
At Treasury Huntsman probably would antagonize Republicans. At State he probably would succeed in gaining much more bi-partisan cooperation on foreign affairs. Which would President Obama prefer?