Everyone seems to agree that the appointment of Utah’s Gov. Jon Huntsman as ambassador to China is a wise and politically brilliant move. I plan to have more to say about this, but one thing I will say now is that the nomination is a fascinating intersection of the Obama administration’s flirtations with foreign policy realism, the GOP’s increasingly unreasonable definition of what passes for a “moderate” (Huntsman’s heresies, such as they are, are actually quite mild), the enduring (and perfectly predictable) resistance to Mormon politicians in presidential politics, and the absence of credible high-profile Republican leadership on foreign policy in opposition to the administration. Related to foreign affairs, Huntsman may have been the most qualified and credible Republican office-holder outside of Congress, and he has now joined the administration. This suggests not only that the administration has captured the foreign policy center, as I was arguing earlier this week, but that those Republicans who might be best qualified to try to take it away from Obama are moving out of electoral politics and into diplomatic service on behalf of Obama’s administration.
P.S. Regarding the Giordano remark about Steele’s Romney gaffe, I would repeat that Steele’s gaffe was a true Kinsley gaffe in that it was an accidental statement of an impolitic truth. Mormonism was, and remains, a real political liability for Romney, as it would have been for Huntsman had he considered running in ’12. This makes all kinds of people uncomfortable for different reasons, but the main reason seems to be that East Coast elite conservatives have developed this strange habit of anointing prominent Mormon politicians who stand no chance of winning presidential nomination as future leaders of the party and they are finding it quite irritating that most Republican voters aren’t going along.
As for the Mormon outreach the Obama campaign did in early ’08, I would note that this yielded nothing in real electoral terms for the reasons that Romneyites are always telling us about–Mormons tend to be social conservatives and they usually back socially conservative politicians, and Obama was decidedly not one of those. Obama’s evangelical outreach yielded no meaningful gain for much the same reason. Evangelicals have been dissed and dismissed inside the coalition for decades, but they keep showing up and backing the party more actively than any other single group, so it is unlikely that Mormon voting patterns are going to change dramatically in the near future. Ironically, it is partly because of the stubborn loyalty of evangelicals to the Republican coalition that Mormon candidates are never going to win presidential nomination on the party’s ticket.