Written by the talented Melinda Henneberger (formerly with the NY Times and AOL's Politics Daily), the 51-year-old Huntsman let's his hair down a bit, so to speak, about his own personality and what makes him tick.
But the two questions most average American might want to ask (or at least what I want to know) is why the popular Governor in Utah, not even a year into his 2nd term in office, quits to became an ambassador to one of the most important counties in the world - China - and then quits halfway thru his term to possibly oppose the man who he left his job for?
In the Time piece, Henneberger lays out the answer to the first question:
So why did the wildly popular governor — Huntsman had an 80% approval rating in his deeply conservative home state when he left it halfway through his second term — agree to take the China job, knowing that part of Obama's motivation in choosing him was to get him out of the way? And having done so, why did he return home to run anyway? To the first question, Huntsman says it was his sense of duty to country that made the decision so straightforward; he had worked for Ronald Reagan soon after college, and as George H.W. Bush's man in Singapore, he had been the youngest U.S. ambassador anywhere in a century. After a stint in his family business during the Clinton years, he had returned to Washington and served under George W. Bush as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative. When the President — any President — calls, he says, you answer. (See the top 10 forgettable Presidents.)
But his father, a billionaire businessman and philanthropist, suggests in a phone interview that there is another reason as well. "His dream was to become ambassador to China," he tells me, because he's always been fascinated by and drawn to the culture. So it was certainly no surprise to anyone in his family that he took the job, even though it did seem at the time that he was taking himself out of the running for the next presidential contest. A fluent speaker of both Mandarin and Taiwanese Hokkien, Huntsman had spent two years in Taiwan as a Mormon missionary and had done business all over Asia for the Huntsman Corp. He and his wife adopted their 11-year-old daughter Gracie Mei in China. Of their seven children, only four were able to move to China with them, which is one reason, he says, they had always planned to return home around now.
So if it was such a dream to live and work in China, why the heck would he quit in midstream? (Other than the fact that he says because of his kids he was apparently never going to complete a full four years in China?)
The answer is that Huntsman is, despite the laid back veneer, a political animal. Because though in the back of his mind he was contemplating a run for the White House in 2016 when he would still be a sprightly 56-years-old, he realized what everybody in America has as they watch Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich get into the race: there is a void in the GOP race for President in May of 2011 (We're trying to resist any comment today on Adam C. Smith's front pager in the Times regarding a Rick Scott candidacy).
As John McCain's former strategist John Weaver tells Henneberger, "This is the weakest Republican field since Wendell Willkie won the nomination on the sixth ballot in 1940."
Hence the departure from China and the extremely awkwardness of running in a GOP primary as a man who worked for the evil, no good Barack Obama. And then, if he is somehow able to survive that gauntlet, turn around and then take on his former boss. It seems particularly formidable.
Many people have speculated that Huntsman is running now to be better known in 2016, or is running for Vice-President. But if he does officially announce next month that he's in it, he won't be getting involved for those reasons. He'll run because he thinks he's the best man in the field.
And because he doesn't seem like a "typical" Republican, maybe he would be formidable. The only policy position he talks much about in the Time piece is cap-and-trade, which is anathema to Republicans and which he says "it hasn't worked," adding "And our economy's in a different place than five years ago."