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Feb 1, 2011 1:24 pm

Huntsman & Lodge

The latest news from the 2012 presidential campaign comes from former Utah governor and current U.S. ambassador to China John Huntsman, who is gearing up to run for the GOP presidential nomination. Politico’s Mike Allen reports that “White House officials are furious at what they consider an audacious betrayal."

A precedent exists for a Republican ambassador to an Asian nation challenging an incumbent Democratic president—the 1964 bid of Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., who served as U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam while he covertly ran a “grassroots” campaign for the Republican nomination. Quite unlike Huntsman, who’s a longshot for 2012, Lodge led in Republican polling for several months before losing the penultimate Oregon primary.

The Lodge effort distorted both politics and policy in 1964, as LBJ worried that seeming soft on Vietnam could be used by a candidate Lodge in the fall campaign. In this May 1964 conversation with National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy (below the jump), he reveals his strategy for dealing with the Lodge political/policy threat. It’s hard to imagine similar words coming from Obama.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: My judgment, Mac, is Lodge is coming back. He’ll probably be back in June.

MCGEORGE BUNDY: Yeah, it looks that way to me—

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: He’s going to find some trouble; he’s going to fall out with us about something—

BUNDY: He’s going to have differences with us, and it’s going to be on this area [escalating the U.S. military involvement], I’m sure. There’s no other.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: And I’m not going to let him have any differences. BUNDY: Yeah.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: So you just let—

BUNDY: Well, then, we’ve got to get our plans; we’d better touch ‘em up a little, then—


BUNDY: Because that’s what—we’ve got to be doing what he’s recommending.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: You just better talk to Bill [Bundy] out there in Manila—

BUNDY: Yeah. I will.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: —and tell him that Johnson’s not going to have any differences with Lodge. He’s going to have to run and catch me before he does. [Bundy cackles.] I’m going to approve every damn thing he does.

BUNDY: That’s it.

PRESIDENT JOHNSON: That’s my strategy.

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