Team of Rivals

It may not seem like the most noteworthy appointment or announcement by President Obama but the appointment of Governor Huntsman of Utah as America’s new ambassador to China is a brilliant political masterstroke.

It is quite simply – and I’m not prone to hyperbole – one of the biggest coups of Obama’s presidency, along with persuading Hillary Clinton to accept the Secretary of State post.

Let me explain. Jon Huntsman is quite frankly one of the very few acceptable faces of the Republican Party right now. While Bobby Jindal flunked the GOP response to the State of the Union address, Michael Steele fights with Rush Limbaugh (and loses), Dick Cheney continues to attempt to justify torture, and the Palin trainwreck continues, Governor Huntsman is not only telegenic and articulate, he also represents a moderate, electable strand of the Republican Party. A former high school drop out (he joined a rock band), he is in favour of civil unions for same-sex couples (highly unusual in his party), regards the environment and climate change as key issues and has called for the GOP to return to its centrist roots.

By picking him for this post, to which he is eminently qualified being fluent in Mandarin and an expert on Chinese and Asian affairs, Obama has brought one of the most popular and electable Republicans in America into his tent. This is of course an ambassadorship and not a Cabinet post but it is a key appointment that will tie Huntsman to the Obama administration and put paid to a possible presidential run in 2012. Yes of course there is the chance in 2016, but the Republicans – being what they are now – might not forgive Huntsman for this move. 

All credit to Governor Huntsman. He has clearly acted like a statesman and put country before party. Even more credit to President Obama. He has already demonstrated his Lincoln-esque abilities to beckoning his political ‘enemies’ into his camp but this is his biggest and boldest coup yet.

He has not only neutralised the only likely moderate in the GOP 2012 primaries but has also muted a leading voice of moderation in the Republican Party. Opposition and alternative candidates are important for democracy, of course, but you cannot fault Obama for this manoeuvre.

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