It’s a critical post at a time of multiple investigations into Russian interference with the American political process, and the former Utah governor certainly has the experience to serve as a top American diplomat. He served as President Obama’s ambassador to China and President George H.W. Bush’s ambassador to Singapore.
But Huntsman’s appointment also underscores how many Republicans who have been critical of Trump are coming to terms with this presidency. Huntsman and Trump have had a historically rocky relationship—in 2012, while Huntsman was running for president, Trump made a public show of attacking him.
“Jon Huntsman called to see me. I said no, he gave away our country to China!” Trump crowed in February 2012.
Their relationship has been a rollercoaster ever since.
In the next presidential election, Huntsman began to suggest that he could back Trump by February 2016, much earlier than many of the Republican Party’s elite.
In April, Huntsman began calling for unity, saying, “we’ve had enough intraparty fighting. Now’s the time to stitch together a winning coalition… And it’s been clear almost from the beginning that Donald Trump has the ability to assemble a nontraditional bloc of supporters.”
By the fall, many in the Republican Party saw an electoral disaster in the making and became coy about whether they fully supported Trump.
Huntsman did the opposite, surprising those in Utah who have known him as a politician since he became governor in 2005—especially considering he was the co-chair of a group called “No Labels,” a group that encouraged civility in politics, something Trump is not known for.
On Oct. 7, 2016, Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune that, although he disagreed with Trump on a host of topics, he would still vote for him. Just one week later, Huntsman called on Trump to drop out after the leak of the Access Hollywood tape—in which the president makes his infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” comment.
“In a campaign cycle that has been nothing but a race to the bottom—at such a critical moment for our nation—and with so many who have tried to be respectful of a record primary vote, the time has come for Governor Pence to lead the ticket,” Huntsman told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Trump offered a rare apology for the comments and went on to deliver a stunning electoral victory just a month later.
With that, Huntsman began creeping up again as a Trump ally. In December, when Trump took a call from the Taiwanese president, prompting a diplomatic uproar, Huntsman praised Trump’s decision. Huntsman was also named by the Trump administration as a potential pick for secretary of state.
News of the ambassadorship was first reported by Politico and confirmed by multiple news organizations.
If confirmed by the Senate, Huntsman will inherit an incredible amount of tension between the United States and Russia.
The intelligence community has concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the U.S. election, with an aim to benefit Trump, and several active congressional investigations are currently under way to explore the issue. Now Huntsman will be in the middle of it.