A few things:
Huntsman is not an ideologue that panders to party extremes.
Politics is a team sport, though. Pandering is par for the course, especially in a time like the one in which we find ourselves, with a particularly polarized electorate and an even more polarized set of elected representatives. I don't think that there's a way to govern on the national level without occasionally pandering to one part of your coalition or another.
That said, I appreciate that Huntsman has resisted a lot of what I think is making his party dangerous these days. That thing he tweeted, that 'call me crazy, I believe in science' or however he phrased it. That was one of my favorite moments in the campaign.
If some set of circumstances led him to the nomination I don't think he'd pander as hard as Mitt is now...nobody would. But he'd pander at least as much as Obama. He'd still talk about how we're the best, most indespensible nation that Allah has seen fit to place on the face of his earth or whatever. He's probably said something like that on the campaign trail even. (I guess I could look it up, but I'd rather shoot from the proverbial hip than work on my google-fu.)
He has experience in office as a successful and well liked governor...
True. And this is actually one of the things that infuriated me about the Republican primary process. You had not only Huntsman, but Gary Johnson, who was a two term governor that was also well liked. And yet, everyone involved it seemed was prepared to dismiss them out of hand in favor of people like Cain, like Bachmann, and like Gingrich, who were popular in conservative circles but toxic everywhere else.
As someone who supports Obama, but is well to his left on issues like drug prohibition, mass incarceration and foreign policy, I would have loved to have seen him challenged from his left on those issues by someone like Johnson instead of just his right.
and has more foreign policy and diplomatic experience than either major party candidate.
...not really. I guess Romney's foreign policy or diplomatic experience really begins and ends with the Olympics, and whatever trade missions he conducted as governor, so Huntsman definitely wins there. But I don't care how long you were a diplomat, I don't think that's really all that comparable to the experience of being a sitting president for any length of time. It's just a different level of play. I might accept your claim if he'd have served say, 3 years here, 4 years there as like a cabinet level official in this or that agency, but that's not what he was doing. Not to take anything away from dude, but there just aren't that many people that have played at Obama's level. (As terrible as I think her record is, Condi Rice is someone who I might say has comparable experience on the Republican side.) And none of them were running to unseat him this time around.
He is fiscally conservative while at the same time being surprisingly socially progressive.
...not really. What surprised me was that during the primary, Huntsman was treated as some sort of squishy moderate, I guess because he worked under Obama, when he's pretty damn conservative. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the only social issue where I remember him deviating from the rest of the folks on the stage was that he supports civil unions. I guess that makes him a radical in today's Republican party. But civil unions are so 2004.
That said, Huntsman was the governor of a very conservative state and ran for the presidential nomination of an especially conservative Republican party. I find it not that hard to believe that he's shifted his personal views a ways to the right to make himself more palatable to his intended audience.
Gary Johnson is the former governor of NM who is currently running for president on the Libertarian ticket.
I like Gary Johnson. Like I said, there are a lot of issues where I think he's closer to me, as a liberal, than Obama. I occasionally talk to Ron Paul people, who in my experience tend to be well meaning if not a bit...off, and I like to point them his way. I think he has a lot of the same qualities that made Paul compelling without the crackpot shit. (Even though, I find Johnson's economic views to be kind of crazy....but in an 'I'm a liberal, he's a conservative, the economy is complicated, I don't think your ideas will work' kind of way, as opposed to an 'I don't care what Alex Jones said, that's insane' kind of way.)
I kind of think of Jon Huntsman as the Platonic ideal of a conservative Republican. I disagree with him about a whole host of issues, but I'm also pretty sure that he wouldn't ignore data in favor of some bullshit about first principles. Really, it's the same reason that a lot of conservatives I know, conservatives like my pops, like Obama a lot, especially when contrasted to his opposition in Congress. They get the feeling that ultimately, he wants to do what works. That's the vibe I get from Huntsman. Maybe I'm wrong. We can't know. He didn't win...honestly, I don't even know why he ran.
Also, whatever shade we might want to throw at the Republicans, Huntsman is and has been a strong supporter of Mitt Romney since he suspended his campaign.