Standing in front of an American flag with the Statue of Liberty in the background, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman just formally announced his campaign for president. A key factor of his candidacy will be his service as President Obama's Ambassador to China, which both gives him foreign policy bona fides and complicates things for him in several ways.
Over the course of the campaign, he'll have to fend off questioners from both sides -- those who see him as too closely tied to the president, and those who his decision to quit and challenge his former boss as disloyal. And his answers risk being contradictory.
Here's what Huntsman told ABC's George Stephanopoulos last month, which is pretty representative of how he addresses the question of his service to Obama:
George Stephanopoulos:But you went to China a couple years ago, saying you didn't know if you'd be doing this. And I know you know that with a lot of Republican primary voters, the number one question is -back there somebody just came up to me at the event, saying 'does he have a chance? He worked for Obama?' What's the answer?
Jon Huntsman: I worked for the President of the United States. The President asked me, the President of all the people. And during a time of war, during a time of economic difficulty for our country, if I'm asked by my President to serve, I'll stand up and do it.
Whether that answer satisfies Republican primary voters, especially those who saw him as too moderate before he worked for Obama, is a big question. But his response will open him up to another question: if the patriotic thing to do was serve at the behest of the president during a time of turmoil, wouldn't that mean that he should continue serving rather than quitting to seek higher office?
Red State's Erick Erickson has made this point a number of times:
My objection to Jon Huntsman remains simple: while serving at the pleasure of the President of the United States, he began plotting against the President of the United States. It matters not who the President is. It matters that the man was disloyal to his President while serving as his mouth piece to our biggest strategic adversary in the world.
One way of trying to reconcile these questions would be for Huntsman to run as a sort of whistle-blower candidate. That is, argue that he started out serving Obama with the best intentions, but became disillusioned by his agenda and lack of policy understanding, so he felt he had to leave and challenge him. Thus, he could run as a credible critic of Obama. But that's a path that he's most decidedly not going to take, having vowed to campaign without even mentioning Obama by name.
How voters respond to Huntsman's attempts to square this circle will in large part determine the success of his candidacy.