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Huntsman: Republicans Are ‘Splintered’ Over Foreign Policy, Spending Cuts

January 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
GOP presidential hopeful and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said he's optimistic about next week's primary in New Hampshire -- a state he's staked his entire candidacy on so far. Gwen Ifill spoke with Huntsman in Manchester.

JEFFREY BROWN: As the campaign shifts from Iowa to New Hampshire, one Republican has staked his entire candidacy on that state.

Gwen Ifill talked with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman last night in Manchester.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Huntsman, thank you so much for joining us.

JON HUNTSMAN (R): It’s a pleasure.

GWEN IFILL: You have had the state of New Hampshire to yourself for a very long time now — 150 appearances you have made here since you started campaigning.

Now what?

I have a hard time with people putting labels on your forehead. I think that's unfair in politics. And some people actually confuse a moderate temperament with a moderate track record.Jon Huntsman, GOP Presidential Hopeful

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, that wonderfully peaceful period that we have taken advantage of in the last several days, we have got this Category 5 storm blowing in called the New Hampshire primary. And we will have to share that with some others.

And it means all of the work that we have done over the course of many months and 151 now public appearances, we will have to leave with the good people of this state, because you get your message out there. You knock on doors. You do town hall meetings endlessly. And you try to win over the trust of the voters, which is never an easy thing to do.

And in this state, in order to win over their trust, they have got to know your heart and soul. They have got to know what you are thinking and what you are hoping to do for this country going forward. And they want to look at your past. They want to see what your record is. They want to get to know you and they want to get to know your family.

So we have done all of that. And now we will let the voters render a judgment in the next few days and live with that.

GWEN IFILL: Well, you’re not working in a vacuum anymore. Everybody blew in from Iowa. You weren’t there, but certainly you were watching very closely. Is there an Iowa bounce or at least a possibility that the publicity of Iowa can obliterate what happens here?

JON HUNTSMAN: There’s an Iowa awareness.

And I think that Iowa awareness is the fact that 75 percent of the voters opted not go with the establishment candidate in Mitt Romney, which means there is a lot of blue sky and a lot of opportunity for other people. But I would argue that New Hampshire is a pretty isolated state, in the sense that they’re not going to be terribly influenced by the opinions of others outside or by the trends that are set by other states or regions.

They don’t want to be told for whom to vote.

GWEN IFILL: Is the Republican Party as splintered as it looks right now?

JON HUNTSMAN: I think it’s splintered. I do.

GWEN IFILL: In what way?

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, in the sense that, whether from a foreign policy standpoint, there’s some divide between the isolationist wing of Ron Paul, the Cold War mentality of a Mitt Romney. I think there are different opinions on things like tax reform and how deep to cut and how to deal with Social Security and Medicare.

I think there are a lot of differing opinions right now.

GWEN IFILL: What is your path to victory in New Hampshire and, assuming that you can do well here, after that?

JON HUNTSMAN: Our path to victory in New Hampshire is exceeding market expectations, because, as you go up in the polls, so go the expectations. They change.

So, when we entered New Hampshire at the very beginning, months ago, the expectations were nothing. We were with the margin-of-error candidates. We’ve gone up, now in third place. The expectations change. And I think in the days ahead, we’re going to continue to rocket upward.

And that means the marketplace expectations are going to change commensurately.

GWEN IFILL: As you pointed out, everyone has had their surge in this race. Everyone has had their chance to be the anti-Romney. So how do you surge?

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, you surge by putting out your record, which compared and contrasted with Romney’s, is dramatically different.

I am running on a reform-minded agenda, which is saying we have two deficits that we must deal with in this country if we’re going to get out of the hole we’re in. One is an economic deficit. And it’s going to call for a bold tax reform package. And it’s very similar to what I did in my own state, where I delivered a flat tax, phasing out all the loopholes and deductions in total, no more corporate welfare, no more subsidies.

It also impacts the lobbying activity that carries on to promote $1 trillion, $100 billion in nonsense. Romney is calling for a little trimming around the edges on tax reform. So we come at it from different perspectives. My state was number one in job creation. His state was number 47.

When you compare and contrast on the other deficit side, not an economic deficit, it’s a trust deficit. And that is, I believe this nation is suffering a trust deficit almost as corrosive as the economic deficit. And that is, our people no longer trust the institutions of power in this country.

GWEN IFILL: Are you suggesting that Mitt Romney isn’t trustworthy?

JON HUNTSMAN: I’m saying, when you have half of Congress supporting you, you are not going to be inclined to want to take on the institution that needs to be changed.

GWEN IFILL: Why can’t that be Mitt Romney?

JON HUNTSMAN: How can you do it when you are protected and supported by the status quo, which is Congress, an institution that carries 8 percent approval by the American people?

GWEN IFILL: What about Ron Paul? He got a pretty significant group of new participants in the process in Iowa, independent voters, who I’m sure you’d love to have. Is there a way you can speak to that, to those voters, or are they unbudgeable?

JON HUNTSMAN: No question about it, if you were to disaggregate our town hall meeting in New Hampshire, the average town hall meeting, you would see that there are Republicans, a whole lot of independents, and even Democrats who are showing up. They are looking for leadership.

They are looking for somebody who can transcend politics. I think that’s a critically important aspect…

GWEN IFILL: How do you get them not…

JON HUNTSMAN: … of success in this election cycle.

GWEN IFILL: How do you get them not to go with Ron Paul? He seems to transcend politics in the eyes of so many of his supporters.

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, many of them who come to these town hall meetings would say that he is unelectable at the end of the day. He’ll carry maybe a 15 percent support rate, approval rating consistently for three election cycles running now.

But, in terms of being able to go the distance, where you can actually beat Barack Obama, it’s not going to happen.

GWEN IFILL: We talk about electability, but I don’t think we often define what that means. Does electability mean me, you are electable if you’re me, or are there a set of qualities that people should be looking for? Is it just — or is just, I see — on a good day, I might be able to beat Barack Obama?

What does it mean?

JON HUNTSMAN: A proven track record that speaks to leadership, the kind of leadership that allows you to coalesce enough support to succeed in electoral politics, because, at the end of the day, the math has to work for you to win an election.

To be electable, you’ve got to actually convince some people who voted for Barack Obama last time to vote for you.

GWEN IFILL: Does that mean you consider yourself a moderate, someone who could appeal to people like that?

JON HUNTSMAN: It means I have crosscutting appeal.

If you look at my record, it would speak to being a consistent conservative.

GWEN IFILL: Wait a second. Why not call yourself a moderate?


GWEN IFILL: Crosscutting appeal? Is that a bad word?

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, we get folks from a lot of different political spectrums. I don’t think it’s a bad word at all.

I have a hard time with people putting labels on your forehead. I think that’s unfair in politics. And some people actually confuse a moderate temperament with a moderate track record.

GWEN IFILL: I finally want to ask you to put on your analyst hat, because one of your supporter, Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, was interviewed. And he was asked about your chances.

And this is what he said. “He has a chance, a shot at second, maybe.”

Maybe? Second?


JON HUNTSMAN: I love surrounding myself with hardheaded realists.


JON HUNTSMAN: Now, if I surrounded myself with spin artists, you know what you would be hearing. I surround myself with hardheaded realists.

GWEN IFILL: Are you one of them?

JON HUNTSMAN: I am a hardheaded realist. Absolutely, I am.

And I say we have come from last place. We now find ourselves in third. There’s a lot more blue sky to go in the days ahead. And I say we’re going to beat market expectations.

GWEN IFILL: Gov. Huntsman…

JON HUNTSMAN: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much.

JEFFREY BROWN: While polls showed Huntsman in third place last night, today, some put him in fourth, trailing Romney, Paul and Gingrich.