I still can’t quite wrap my head around the idea that the Republican Party, when choosing a nominee to run against President Obama would turn to … an Obama administration official. When you add the fact that this official described President Obama as “a remarkable leader,” there’s something about this that just doesn’t compute.

That said, Obama’s former Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, certainly appears to be gearing up for a presidential run — as a Republican — and the media already adores him.

One of his first hurdles, apparently, will be questions about his loyalties. RedState’s Erick Erickson, of all people, raised a provocative point this week about Huntsman, who left his job as Utah’s governor in 2009 to join the Obama administration.

The reason I will never, ever support Jon Huntman [sic] is simple: While serving as the United States Ambassador to China, our greatest strategic adversary, Jon Huntsman began plotting to run against the President of the United States. This calls into question his loyalty not just to the President of the United States, but also his loyalty to his country over his own naked ambition.

It does not matter if you are a Republican or a Democrat. Party is beside the point here. When the President of the United States sends you off to be Ambassador to our greatest strategic adversary in the world, you don’t sit around contemplating running against the very same President you serve. It begs the question of did you fully carry out your duties as Ambassador or let a few things slip along the way hoping to damage the President? Likewise, it begs the question of whether our relations with China have suffered because the President felt like he could not trust his own Ambassador?

Huntsman’s team of insiders and professional advisors laughed off the concern, but the unannounced candidate felt compelled to respond yesterday.

“There was no gearing up for a campaign, whatsoever,” Huntsman said, explaining that the campaign structure had been put together without his input.

“I didn’t even know these people,” he said, pointing to several campaign staffers nearby. “I did not know them until I got off the plane…. These are all new friends.”

At the risk of sounding like a cynic, this seems wildly implausible. Huntsman sent out word five months ago — four months before stepping down from his Obama administration post — that he’d likely seek the GOP nomination, even while ostensibly serving a Democratic nomination. Are we to believe Huntsman simply got off the plane from Beijing, and immediately fell into the arms of perfect strangers — campaign professionals, all — who magically formed a presidential campaign operation with no input whatsoever from the candidate?

I suppose anything’s possible, but it seems Huntsman is starting his campaign with a defense that’s literally hard to believe.

As for his chances, Huntsman is not only a former member of Obama’s team, he’s also a former governor who embraced stimulus funds, support a cap-and-trade plan, and endorsed civil unions for same-sex couples. Huntsman’s campaign operation is largely staffed with veterans of John McCain’s 2008 team, which isn’t exactly popular among GOP activists.

Strange things can happen in presidential politics, but I’m comfortable predicting that Huntsman has a very steep hill to climb.

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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.