HUNTSMAN CALLED OBAMA A ‘REMARKABLE LEADER’…. There’s certainly a credible case to be made that Jon Huntsman is a credible Republican presidential candidate. He’s a conservative with domestic (governor of Utah) and foreign policy (Ambassador to China) experience, who enjoys a fair amount of respect from the GOP establishment.

But if there’s a scenario in which Republican voters overlook stories like these, I don’t see it.

Washington is a town famous for false praise. Lawmakers are often graciously thanking their “good friend” from across the aisle — right before skewering that person as unpatriotic or ill-suited for governing.

So imagine the surprise to find a Republican offering what appears to be truly genuine admiration for a Democrat. And then to find out that the Republican might be thinking about running against that Democrat in 2012.

In a handwritten letter to President Obama obtained by The Daily Caller, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah, calls the president a “remarkable leader” — and underlines “remarkable” for emphasis.

The letter was sent in August 2009, eight months into Obama’s term. It came the same week as another Huntsman letter to Bill Clinton, in which Huntsman praised the former president and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Even if Huntsman denounces all of this and categorically condemns the entire Obama administration as part of his Republican presidential campaign, there are some things GOP primary voters — especially this year’s Republican electorate, dominated by the unhinged right — just won’t forgive, especially when there are more appealing alternatives.

When push comes to shove, Huntsman worked for Barack Obama and praised his leadership. In Republican presidential politics, that’s about as serious a deal-breaker as announcing one’s hatred of Reagan.

For what it’s worth, a Republican strategist close to Huntsman suggested the White House leaked the letters to embarrass him. “Need any more proof that the White House most fears Jon huntsman?” the strategist asked. “I don’t think so.”

It’s possible, but I doubt it. If the White House wanted to embarrass Huntsman with these letters, why would the president’s team leak them on a Friday in April to a conservative outlet like the Daily Caller?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.