Huntsman Returns

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Jon Huntsman is back from China, playing political catchup and eying an entrance into the wide-open Republican presidential field. Melinda Henneberger has a nice profile of Obama’s ex-ambassador in the dead tree edition of TIME hitting newsstands tomorrow, and nabbed the first interview with him since he returned to U.S. soil.

A little news on how he’s adapting to the domestic political landscape:

Already he’s in primary-season mode, moderating his previously moderate views by praising the Tea Party as “a very legitimate manifestation of people’s anger and frustration in where we are today” and junking his support for the regional cap-and-trade carbon-emissions pact he and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger once championed. “It hasn’t worked,” he says now, “and our economy’s in a different place than five years ago.” Until it recovers, he adds, “this isn’t the moment” to keep trying.

How he answers the inevitable question on the President he served:

When I ask where he disagrees with Obama, he says, “I’m a little reluctant, days off the plane, to take shots.” There’s something to admire in every President he’s known, he adds, and he launches into a canny but glass-half-full rundown on Nixon, Reagan, both Bushes and Obama. The current occupant of the Oval Office, he says, “is trying to pick up the pieces of our economy and make sense of a world grown more complex and confusing.”

An interesting note on Huntsman’s Mormonism, or lack thereof:

And as for whether or not Huntsman still belongs to the Church of Latter-day Saints, I know less than I did before I asked him. (“I’m a very spiritual person,” as opposed to a religious one, he says, “and proud of my Mormon roots.” Roots? That makes it sound as if you’re not a member anymore. Are you? “That’s tough to define,” he says. “There are varying degrees. I come from a long line of saloon keepers and proselytizers, and I draw from both sides.”)

And a bit of color:

Huntsman is something of a renowned prankster, which helps take the edge off his good looks and high polish. “Asha, do you know they eat dogs like that in China? They put them in stew,” he says while pointing to his daughter’s pet spaniel, which shocks me but sends her into fits of laughter. A few years ago, he paged Sharp, the doctor friend he used to jam with, stat — as in, this is an emergency. “So I called him back rapidly,” Sharp remembers, “and he says, ‘It’s a rock-’n’-roll emergency … the Foo Fighters are coming to town, and we’ve got to get tickets.’”

The whole thing is well worth a read. We can also mail you a copy.