Eight years after he was sent to China by a Democratic president, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former Utah governor and Republican presidential candidate, is under consideration to be President Trump’s ambassador to Russia, people briefed on the deliberations said.
And like eight years ago, there is a political dimension to the choice: Sending Mr. Huntsman to Moscow would remove him as a primary challenger to Utah’s 82-year-old Republican senator, Orrin Hatch — just as when former President Barack Obama chose him for Beijing in 2009, it was seen as a way to keep him off the field during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Mr. Huntsman ended up running for the Republican nomination to challenge Mr. Obama anyway, failing to emerge from the pack in a primary that produced Mitt Romney. There is no telling whether he will emerge as Mr. Trump’s choice, given the sensitivity of the Russia post and the president’s propensity for auditioning people for jobs. The White House declined to comment, as did Mr. Huntsman.
Mr. Huntsman’s name had already circulated for secretary of state and, more recently, for deputy secretary. But a person briefed on the talks, which were first reported by CNN, said the Moscow ambassador’s post was a more genuine prospect. Mr. Huntsman spoke with Mr. Trump last week and met on Monday with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.
The Moscow job is a less obvious fit for Mr. Huntsman than Beijing was. A Mormon missionary in Taiwan as a young man, Mr. Huntsman speaks Mandarin; he and his wife, Mary Kaye, adopted a girl from China. He was ambassador to Singapore under former President George H.W. Bush.
While Mr. Huntsman’s family company owns manufacturing operations in Russia, and he was involved in the company’s early business dealings there, people who know him say that he has never claimed any particular expertise on the country. In the past, when Mr. Huntsman has taken a federal job, he has divested himself of family business holdings to avoid a conflict of interest.