Washington • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman poked fun at himself and his failed presidential bid, and saved a few jabs for President Barack Obama and his fellow Republicans, on Saturday at the Gridiron Club dinner in Washington.
Huntsman noted that he had served in four administrations and was twice elected governor, so he thought he was qualified to make a White House bid himself. It didn’t turn out too well.
“It’s no secret I ran for president,” Huntsman said, “at least it wasn’t supposed to be.”
Huntsman, who dropped out of the presidential race after a distant third showing in New Hampshire, was the Republican speaker at the event held by the 128-year-old journalism club. His eldest daughters, Abby and Mary Anne Huntsman, joined club members to sing part of a tribute to the ex-governor to the tune of Feliz Navidad.
“Pull-eze like our Dad,” the satirical lyrics went. “Pull-eze like our Dad.”
Jon Huntsman laughed at the song and cheered on his kids.
“I always hoped the breakout star of the Republican primary would be a Huntsman,” the ex-governor said. “I wasn’t planning on it being my daughters.”
The co-chair of the post-partisan group No Labels also made a pitch to the journalists in the room for the cause, arguing Washington needs people who can actually work across the aisle and cut out the mud-slinging.
“Co-chairing No Labels has had the added benefit of removing a label that’s been attached to me: Democrat,” Huntsman joked.
Gridiron Club President Clark Hoyt also quipped about Huntsman’s independent streak, noting that Hoyt’s predecessor, Hearst newspaper’s Chuck Lewis, was in charge of picking the GOP speaker.
“I guess President Lewis couldn’t get a Republican tonight,” Hoyt said.
Huntsman said he finally understood why Obama had tapped him to be the U.S. ambassador to China.
“That’s where he sends things that can hurt him politically,” Huntsman said, “like me, or trillions of dollars of debt.”
A new tell-all book, “Double Down,” claims the White House was irritated that Huntsman would take that assignment in China and then return to run against his former boss.
“Now I hear that the president was surprised that all that time I was thinking about running for president,” Huntsman said. “As if the NSA wasn’t listening to every conversation I had. And as if the Chinese weren’t listening to them listening to me.”
Huntsman said he had some similarities with the night’s Democratic speaker, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana.
“I spell my name J-O-N, like Jon Tester,” Huntsman said. “Not J-O-H-N, like David Vitter.”
Vitter, a Louisiana senator had been accused of visiting a prostitute and his phone number was listed on records kept by a prostitution ring in Washington. The senator denies the accusations.
Tester, too, mentioned the “Double Down” book, ripping on Huntsman’s short stint as a presidential candidate where he earned a ton of news media coverage but few votes.
There were “lots of surprises in [the book] but maybe the biggest surprise is that there were actually a few people in America who genuinely thought that Jon Huntsman was going to be elected president,” Tester said to the room of journalists, “and its great to see all those folks in the room tonight.”
The Gridiron’s Winter Dinner is less well-known than its big spring gala but it’s rich in history, too. It was the 2004 dinner when then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney first met Obama, who had just been elected to the Senate.
Editor’s note: Thomas Burr is a member of the Gridiron Club.