John Thune's announcement that he would not be running for president in 2012 has overshadowed another bit of news on the GOP primary front: current U.S. ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, has apparently taken a further step toward running for president, presumably as a Republican, with the launch of a new political action committee, Horizon PAC.
Huntsman received a splashy Newsweek profile at the beginning of the year, and his meetings with known political consultants (such as John Weaver) during recent visits to Washington, have fueled talk of a potential presidential run. President Obama, for his part, deftly handled a question on Huntsman's rumored presidential ambitions during a January 19 joint press conference with Chinese leader Hu Jintao by mildly pointing out how helpful Huntsman's service in the Obama administration should be in a Republican primary. When Huntsman tendered his resignation, effective April 30, a couple days after that press conference, the White House response was to note they were expecting it.
Putting aside the question of whether he's actually electable, one has to wonder what Huntsman's current interlocutors in Beijing are making of all this. China's authoritarians struggle to understand our political system at the most basic level. And whereas challenges to the Communist Party's political leadership generally result in imprisonment or worse, Huntsman's not-so-stealth campaign to unseat his present boss - and Obama's mild reaction to it - must be incomprehensible to them. As counterintuitive as it may seem to the Chinese, it is probably a testament to the underlying stability of our outwardly chaotic political system that such a situation could arise and not even be the day's top story in the GOP primary sweepstakes.