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Could Huntsman Be the GOP's 2012 Wild Card?

The most exciting thing to the GOP 2012 Republican field this month is the announcement of Sarah Palin’s bus tour. But there could be more excitement on the horizon. Former Utah Governor Republican Jon Huntsman is also exploring a possible bid for the White House. With a lineup so far that can only be described as “lackluster” the addition of an intellectually capable candidate with tremendous diplomatic credentials and experience as governor of one of the most fiscally healthy states in the union ought to spice things up a bit.

Jon Huntsman, traveled to my home state of California this week. Fresh off of a stint as United States Ambassador to China—arguably the single most important ambassadorship for the U.S. at this juncture in history—he spent three days this week on a whirlwind trip through the Golden State meeting with major Republican donors, business and political leaders to gauge interest and support for a potential run for president.

On Tuesday he visited San Francisco; he spent Wednesday in Los Angeles; and concluded his trip Thursday after a full day of meetings in Orange County. The visit to Orange County included a luncheon with one of California’s most heavy hitting Republican donor groups, the New Majority.

I attended Governor Huntsman’s speech to the New Majority and spent breakfast with him and a small group earlier Thursday morning.

It is too early to pick a pony in the race, but at the very least his candidacy should be intriguing to Republican voters interested in foreign policy.

In particular, while he is not the only former governor eyeing the Republican nomination, Mr. Huntsman separates himself from the rest of  the field because of his foreign policy experience. I’m thinking particularly of his time in Beijing at a critical juncture in U.S.-China relations. Understanding the economic and political dynamics of China will be crucial for the next president, but having a commanding knowledge of Asia, more broadly, might also prove useful. He is the only candidate able to lay claim to such credentials. Oh, and did I mention, he also happens to speak Mandarin fluently.

Huntsman’s message in California focused on what he termed repairing America’s “core.” The former governor believes that part of his job as the next president of the United States would be to inspire confidence in the American people—that is, confidence in the job markets, confidence in the broader economy and confidence in political leaders.

Huntsman sees America’s greatest potential weakness as a willingness to play second fiddle globally, as if to succumb to the notion that America’s global reign is predestined to cease.

Part of the problem, the former ambassador stated, is the increasingly divisive nature of politics in the country. He believes the American people are beginning to show disdain for the combative politics that have embodied political campaigns in recent memory and will look to leaders focused on problem solving rather than bickering.

Huntsman’s mild mannered call for civility, while perhaps noble, seems almost counterintuitive to today’s political realities of direct confrontations and Wisconsin-style fights for reform.

Governor Huntsman’s message seemed well received by California Republicans but whether that will translate into financial support and whether that same message will resonate with the GOP faithful elsewhere remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, with Huntsman’s unique insights to foreign policy and success with economic policy in Utah, his participation in the Republican primary field would largely improve the debate and heighten political discourse for the GOP.

Brian Calle is an Opinion Columnist and Senior Editorial Writer for the Orange County Register. More of his writing can be found at www.ocregister.com/opinion.