SALT LAKE CITY — There may still be a spot in President-elect Donald Trump's administration for former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., even though he wasn't selected to serve as secretary of state.
The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump could choose Huntsman as ambassador to Japan in an attempt to try "to match a Republican establishment figure with a region he is familiar with."
Huntsman, elected to two terms as governor, was the U.S. ambassador to China during President Barack Obama's first term and has also been an ambassador to Singapore and a U.S. trade representative in Asia.
He had been on the list of possible secretary of state candidates for the new administration, along with another Utahn, the Republican Party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
But Trump went with Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for the top diplomatic post. He has already named three ambassadors, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to China; South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to the United Nations; and David Friedman to Israel.
Now, though, his transition team is looking at filling other ambassadorships. The New York Times listed Huntsman among "aspirational suggestions" that have surfaced amid "intense jockeying" for the posts among Trump donors and loyalists.
Huntsman was an early backer of Trump among Utah Republicans, although he joined the call for him to step down as a candidate after a tape of his conversation about making sexual advances on women surfaced.
Huntsman recently announced interest in running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in 2018, even though Hatch has not made it clear whether he will seek an eighth term.
There has been talk that Hatch, third in the line of succession for the presidency as the Senate president pro tempore, is pushing for Trump to find a role for Huntsman in the new administration.
Huntsman did not respond immediately to a request for comment about the ambassadorship to Japan, a position now held by Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy.
Kirk Jowers, a friend of Huntsman's and the former head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said it makes sense that Trump would be looking at Huntsman for an important diplomatic posting such as Japan, a key U.S. ally.
"There is no doubt the Trump administration would like to make use of him in some capacity," Jowers said, citing Huntsman's experience. But he said it's not clear the position is "significant and unique enough" for Huntsman.
"I don't see the allure for Huntsman because he has already had a very prestigious diplomatic career, which recently included ambassador to China, the plum of all ambassadorships," Jowers said.
Huntsman, who ran for president in 2012, is currently the chairman of the Atlantic Council, an international affairs think tank specializing in foreign affairs, and co-chaiman of No Labels, a group promoting nonpartisianship.
He recently defended Trump's decision to take a call from Taiwan's president, the first such communciation since 1979. Since then, the United States has recognized Taiwan as a part of China.