Quantcast

Obama vs. Huntsman: Kindness as strategy

Published April 29, 2011 8:39 pm

Politics • Being an asset to the president could hurt the former Utah governor if he runs for president.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Washington • If Jon Huntsman Jr. decides to run against President Barack Obama, the man who has employed Huntsman the past 18 months, it's becoming increasingly clear how Team Obama will respond: Kill his campaign with kindness.

Huntsman, a former Utah governor and current U.S. ambassador to China, has yet to say whether he will make a presidential bid, but when he leaves April 30, it appears the ambassador will be welcomed home with praise from the Obama administration — something that likely won't play terribly well in a Republican primary.

"His support of the Obama administration, his support of the president, the things he did on behalf of this administration and the closeness in which he worked with the president is most appreciated," White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley said Sunday on "Meet The Press." "And I'm sure he'll talk about that in the primaries."

Daley also noted that Huntsman has done an "excellent job in behalf of the Obama administration."

Huntsman — who Obama's 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe once said makes him a "wee bit queasy" as a possible opponent — could be a formidable challenger to the president should he get past the GOP primaries. That's where the praise comes in.

Some campaigns sling mud. This time, it's slinging affection.

When Huntsman hinted about a potential presidential bid earlier this year, Obama himself said his ambassador had done an "outstanding job" and that he "couldn't be happier with his service."

"I'm sure that him having worked so well with me will be a great asset in any Republican primary," Obama joked in January during a joint news conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

When Obama tapped Huntsman for the key role in 2009, many pundits praised a shrewd move by the administration to sideline a potential 2012 opponent. After all, Beijing isn't necessarily the best place to launch a bid, especially against the man for whom you work.

But with Huntsman preparing to return to the states, and a group of supporters laying the groundwork for a possible run, the Obama response appears to be noting how well Huntsman worked for the Democratic White House.

"If they have to sling mud, they will sling mud," says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. "But right now … the strategy is to make him seem like he's part of the Obama administration. That doesn't play so well in the Republican primaries. Their advantage in the administration is in those Republican primaries, where they can hurt him by being kind to him."

Already a Democratic operative has purchased the website address Obamasambassador.com. It currently shows only a single image: that of Obama and Huntsman together.

tburr@sltrib.com