He returned from Beijing in 2011 to media fanfare but his presidential bid collapsed in the early stages as he failed to connect with the conservatives that make up the Republican primary electorate.
Mr Huntsman said that his work for a Democrat president, his belief in climate change and his relatively liberal attitude on gay rights had obscured his conservative stances on budgets, gun control and abortion.
“You get caught up in a lot of the issues on which you’re easily dismissed without people giving you proper consideration,” he said.
However, the scale of Mitt Romney’s defeat in November has left the party reeling and may create a fresh opening for the socially-moderate but fiscally-conservative ideas Mr Huntsman espoused in the primary.
“The party right now is a holding company that’s devoid of a soul and it will be filled up with ideas over time and leaders will take their proper place,” he said.
Mr Huntsman urged the party to “reflect a little bit on our winning chapters” and face up to a demographic reality where white conservatives represent a shrinking portion of the electorate.
“We can’t be known as a party that’s fear-based and doesn’t believe in math,” he said. “In the end it will come down to a party that believes in opportunity for all our people, economic competitiveness and a strong dose of libertarianism.”
He said he “absolutely” supported individual states being allowed to implement gay marriage, saying that Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, believed that “equality under the law is an American value”.
Mr Huntsman did not rule out a second presidential run in 2016 but said he was not spending his time “looking for some opening that we can fit in”.
He said that the three most talked about names for the Republican nomination – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney’s former running mate Congressman Paul Ryan – “all deserve high marks individually”.
However, he declined to support any of them, saying he believed the party needed to go through “a very competitive process in terms of ideas”.
Mr Huntsman joined with a growing number of Republicans in attacking the use of “straw polls” – small-scale, unofficial voting contests among conservative activists – that gave “little blips of momentum and buzz” to far-Right primary candidates.
Both Michelle Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman beloved by the Tea Party, and Herman Cain, the former pizza executive, won straw polls last year but still saw their candidacies implode.
“You look back and you realize [the straw polls results are] fairly artificial and ephemeral and really don’t speak to long-term competitive candidates that can actually go the distance on the big issues of the day,” he said.
Mr Huntsman cautioned that the improving economy would put Mr Obama’s Democratic successor in a strong position for 2016 but said that eight years of incumbency would take a toll on the President’s party.
“The one thing that is as sure as the rising tomorrow is that the Democrats will become lazy and they will take their off the ball,” he said. “We will see more crony capitalism in Washington as the state grows and that’s the kind of thing Americans hate.”