My colleague Michael Warren recently asked Jon Huntsman to comment on why he had failed to appeal to Republican voters, and got this response:
"I was raised, I guess, in a different era, where you serve your country first ... [Republicans] said, 'He crossed a partisan line, that's unacceptable. And he served in China, and that's totally unacceptable.' I mean, come on, please."
Of course, it is entirely possible that there are some primary voters who were offended by Huntsman's service in the Obama administration, and there may even be a handful who objected to his having served in the People's Republic of China. I can, however, think of some other, more plausible, reasons why enthusiasm for Huntsman was comparatively low. He seemed deliberately to appeal to voters unlikely to participate in Republican primaries—granting access to Vanity Fair, appearing on Saturday Night Live—and took pains to distinguish himself from what we might call orthodox Republican positions on the issues. There is nothing wrong with this—one might argue that Ron Paul has done much the same—but it seems evident that Huntsman's lack of success is more logically the fault of Jon Huntsman as a candidate than Republican primary voters.
There is another way of looking at it as well. Huntsman to the contrary, there is a long and honorable tradition of bipartisan diplomatic appointments in American history. Democratic presidents have recruited many famous Republicans to execute foreign policy, and Republican presidents have recruited many famous Democrats to execute foreign policy. The fact is that, for whatever reason, President Obama offered Huntsman a plum diplomatic assignment—the American embassy in Beijing, once occupied by George H.W. Bush—and Huntsman rewarded Obama's gesture by quitting to run against his patron. Since Huntsman did not resign in protest, or complain that he could not reconcile his service with his conscience, it might strike the average Republican voter—it certainly struck this one—that you don't have to be an admirer of Obama to think that his bipartisan gesture was answered by something amounting to professional betrayal. It certainly makes Huntsman's acceptance of Obama's offer look opportunistic.
Historical note: Dwight D. Eisenhower declined to run for president against Harry Truman in 1948, despite entreaties from both parties, because he did not think soldiers should go into politics and, while serving as president of Columbia University, he remained a consultant to the Truman administration. But by 1952, when the "draft Eisenhower" movement entered his name in the New Hampshire primary (without his permission), it was widely speculated that Truman would not seek reelection. Eisenhower announced his resignation from the Army, and presidential candidacy, a few days after winning the March 11 primary; and two weeks later Truman declared he would not run.
Similarly, in 1964, Henry Cabot Lodge, ambassador to South Vietnam, resigned his post when a "draft Lodge" movement managed to score a write-in victory in the New Hampshire Republican primary against Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller. But Lodge never actively campaigned for the nomination, and in any case, had been appointed by John Kennedy, not the incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson.