That’s the take in “Huntsman, Interrupted,” a long essay at The New Republic. The essay speculates that Utah Governor Jon Huntsman knows 2012 is too early for the GOP to reinvent itself and be receptive to a presidential candidate positioned on the left side of the GOP spectrum on social issues, as he apparently is now. So, instead, he’ll go to China and avoid the potentially disastrous elections in 2010 and 2012, then return for a run in 2016 having avoided Republican infighting and with excellent foreign policy credentials. (Although 2008 showed you can get to the White House with no foreign policy experience … still, I like the idea that people think a presidential candidate should have some.)
The Mormon angle gets covered, of course.
Huntsman seems to have learned another lesson from the Romney campaign: A Mormon, no matter how conservative, cannot win amongst the right wing of the party–particularly evangelicals. Romney thought he could win their favor by becoming a drum-beating social conservative, underestimating the deep-rooted antipathy many evangelicals have toward Mormons. A recent Pew poll found that 39 percent of evangelicals hold negative views of Mormons–a sentiment Mike Huckabee used against Romney. … In light of Romney’s experience, the more likely base for Huntsman would have been the moderate wing of the party, which is less concerned with religion in general (and the LDS church specifically).
So a qualified and electable Republican candidate apparently decides he is better off spending four years as a diplomat in China representing a Democratic president than continuing his course as a successful and rising Republican politician. This is in part because of the role of Evangelicals within the party. This should make whoever is running the Republican Party these days lose some sleep.
Earlier posts on this topic: