WASHINGTON, November 11, 2017 — Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. has been approached by the Trump administration to serve as Ambassador to Russia.
Huntsman, a Republican, may be the one person with the political dexterity and bi-partisan support to be able to serve in this role as the Trump administration tries to build relations with Russia. That effort comes amid the political swirl of allegations against the Administration.
The Huntsman family’s political service starts with his father, Jon Huntsman Sr., who served in the Nixon administration as Associate Administrator of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and then as Special Assistant and Staff Secretary to President Nixon. Eleven-year-old Jon Jr. met with Henry Kissinger, who confided in the young boy that he was secretly traveling to China, possibly sparking Huntsman’s lifetime interest in diplomacy.
Jon Huntsman Jr. served as a Mormon missionary for two years in Taiwan in the early 1980s, becoming fluent in Mandarin. He returned with his family to Taipei, where he worked from 1987 to 1988.
Huntsman’s political career began in the Reagan White House, where he served as a staff assistant. In 1988, Huntsman was a state delegate to the Republican National Convention that nominated George H.W. Bush and Dan Quayle.
He was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce, then as United States Ambassador to Singapore (1992-1993) by George H.W. Bush.
As the 16th governor of Utah (2004-2008) Huntsman’s approval ratings were 80 percent positive, and the Pew Center on States named Utah the best managed state in the country. Huntsman left the governor’s office in 2009, when he was appointed United States Ambassador to China by President Barack Obama.
Huntsman’s career of service and experience will serve him well in dealing with Moscow. Dimitri K. Simes, the president of the Center for the National Interest, a Washington research organization, observed, “He worked in another authoritarian country with which the United States also has a complex relationship.”
On June 21, 2011, Huntsman chose Liberty State Park in New Jersey, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, the same site where Ronald Reagan launched his campaign in 1980, to enter the race for the Republican presidential nomination. When Huntsman finished third in the New Hampshire primary he threw his endorsement to fellow Mormon Mitt Romney.
Huntsman did endorse Donald Trump in April 2016, before calling for his resignation from the race following the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump made demeaning comments about women.
However, Huntsman defended then president-elect Trump’s phone call with the president of Taiwan, which was initiated by Taiwan and which broke decades of diplomatic protocol and aggravated tensions with China.
“As a businessman, Donald Trump is used to looking for leverage in any relationship,” Huntsman said. “A President Trump is likely to see Taiwan as a useful leverage point.”
Multiple media reports say that Huntsman has has accepted the Trump administration’s offer to serve as ambassador to Russia. The well liked, and respected diplomat and past governor would have to be confirmed by the Senate before becoming Washington’s envoy in Moscow.
The 56-year-old Huntsman was said to be under consideration for the position of Secretary of State before it was given to Rex Tillerson. Regardless, this highly visible and important ambassadorship could pave the way for future vice presidential and presidential aspirations.
Huntsman and his wife, Mary Kaye, have seven children: Mary Anne (b. 1985), Abigail (b. 1986), Elizabeth (“Liddy”; b. 1988), Jon III (b. 1990), William (b. 1993), Gracie Mei (b. 1999; adopted from China), and Asha Bharati (b. 2006; adopted from India).