THE MORNING LINE -- May 20, 2011 at 8:42 AM EDT
Huntsman Gives Debut Interview as Likely Presidential Candidate
Jon Huntsman is a former U.S. ambassador to China and governor of Utah. Photo by ChinaFotoPress/Getty Images.
Here's guessing Newt Gingrich wishes he had a rollout TV interview more along the lines of what Jon Huntsman conducted Friday morning with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.
The former U.S. ambassador to China and Utah governor emerged largely unscathed from his first TV interview since returning stateside and stepping up his activity as a likely presidential candidate.
The quick domestic rundown: He's not moving off his support for civil unions or for in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants. He's downplaying his previous support for cap-and-trade, citing the current economic climate as one that cannot sustain the policy. He would've voted for Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget and wants to repeal President Obama's health care law.
The quick foreign policy rundown: He would not have intervened in Libya because he didn't see it in the nation's core national security interest. He seems to believe it's time to reassess the U.S. footprint in Afghanistan.
Stephanopoulos kicked off the interview by asking about what he'll say to Republican primary voters about why he went to work for President Obama.
"I worked for the president of the United States. The president asked me, the president of all the people. And during a time of war, during a time of economic difficulty for our country, if I'm asked by my president to serve, I'll stand up and do it," Huntsman said.
"I'd do it again....Particularly in a critical and sensitive bipartisan position, which is the U.S. ambassador to China....[Y]ou can get in there and bring about change in a way that helps your country through public service, I'm there," he added.
Pressed about his remarks in 2009 about the president's stimulus bill not being large enough, he said that he would have liked to see more targeted tax cuts to get businesses growing again.
"My take was, let's stimulate business. Let's look at tax cuts, let's look at payroll tax deductions. If you read on in the interview, that's exactly what I said. But more than that, George, a specific focus as opposed to just giving dollars to states. And let's face it, every governor took it," he said.
The former governor also ruminated about what's required to make a final decision to run for president, and it seemed as if he was offering some advice to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
"You either feel it inside, or you don't. You don't need people who whisper things in your ear," Huntsman said. "You either have a conviction about our place and time in history, and the importance of broadening and expanding the debate about some of these key issues, about jobs and the 21st century competitiveness, it is that core we spoke about earlier. Our core is weak. And when our core is weak, so is every aspect of what America projects."
Huntsman has four more days on his five-day, inaugural Granite State swing with lots more questions coming his way.
GINGRICH'S TOUGH WEEK
It's been five days since Gingrich went on "Meet the Press," and he's still answering questions about his appearance.
In an interview Thursday with conservative talk radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, the former House speaker said "there was no reference to Paul Ryan" in his answer to a question about the GOP plan to reform Medicare, which Gingrich called "right-wing social engineering."
Limbaugh asked Gingrich why, then, did he feel the need to call Rep. Ryan to apologize.
"Because it was interpreted in a way which was causing trouble, which he doesn't need or deserve, and was causing the House Republicans trouble," Gingrich responded. "One of my closest friends -- somebody I truly, deeply respect -- e-mailed me and said, 'You know, your answer hits every Republican who voted for the budget.' Well, my answer wasn't about the budget."
The trouble for Gingrich is that the video evidence and corresponding transcript prove otherwise. Gingrich's "right-wing social engineering" line came after a question from host David Gregory about the provision in the House GOP budget to revamp Medicare into a private voucher system, and Gregory specifically mentioned Rep. Ryan in his follow-up:
GREGORY: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.
GINGRICH: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump.
The Democratic National Committee has taken the conservative reaction to Gingrich's comments and turned it into a web video framing the GOP's Medicare reform proposal as a litmus test for the party's presidential contenders.
"The ad this morning is despicable," Gingrich said Thursday while in the midst of his week-long Iowa tour, Jason Clayworth of the Des Moines Register reports. "The president should withdraw it. He should be ashamed of his national committee that he controls," added Gingrich.
More from Clayworth on the former Georgia congressman's damage control effort:
"Gingrich told reporters that he would overcome the negative press with 'cheerful persistence,' which includes intense campaigning. He urged his supporters to appear in a short video attesting to their support for him because 'we have to sort of convince the Washington news media that actually the voters will decide when this election is over, not five or six pundits.'"
Gingrich will give the Washington press another try Sunday when he sits down with CBS' Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation."
TAKING TO THE AIR
Priorities USA Action, the new Democratic Super PAC headed up by former Obama administration aides Bill Burton and Sean Sweeney, is launching its first TV ad of the 2012 cycle, and it is squarely aimed at Mitt Romney.
On Friday, the former Massachusetts governor will make his 2011 debut trip to South Carolina. He was an early supporter of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley in her run for the statehouse last year, and he certainly hopes to start collecting some of those Palmetto State chits before too long.
Although Priorities USA is the kind of outside group President Obama discouraged in his 2008 run for the White House, it's likely to be the clearing house for hundreds of millions of Democratic dollars aimed at negatively framing the president's Republican opponents.
The 30-second ad seizes on Gingrich's comments on '"Meet the Press" and the onslaught of conservative criticism that followed:
Newt Gingrich says the Republican plan that would essentially end Medicare is too "radical".
Governor Haley thinks the plan is courageous, and Gingrich shouldn't be cutting conservatives off at the knees.
Mitt Romney says he's "on the same page" as Paul Ryan, who wrote the plan to essentially end Medicare.
But with Mitt Romney, you have to wonder...which page is he on today?
Romney's campaign was quick to respond.
"President Obama's first campaign ad is an attack ad. President Obama and his team are desperate to change the subject to anything other than jobs and the millions of Americans out of work. With 9.6 percent unemployment in South Carolina, voters are looking for a jobs plan not a smear campaign," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
After White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer and the Democratic National Committee clearly labeled Rep. Ryan's budget as a litmus test for the GOP, it's probably not surprising to see Priorities USA exploit that.
The ad also portrays Romney as a vacillating candidate without convictions, which is a leftover narrative from his 2008 run that he will work hard to shed this time around.
The ad buy is relatively small and far more geared to garnering press attention than actually persuading any Republican primary voter in South Carolina.
As always seems to be the case for Romney, it's not just his Democratic opponents offering a dubious welcome to the Palmetto State.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint supported Romney in 2008 but hardly seems to be an ally this time around.
The State on DeMint's health care critique:
"'Frankly, I would have liked to have seen Mitt distance himself a little bit from the final outcome of that plan,' says Mr. DeMint, a 2008 Romney supporter. 'As we have seen the plan in Massachusetts unfold, a lot of the goals have not been met.'"
MORE ON THE MIDEAST
President Obama's speech on U.S.-Middle East policy -- and specifically his position that the 1967 boundaries before the Arab-Israeli war should be the basis for peace negotiations -- came under quick and heavy criticism Thursday from a number of his potential opponents in the upcoming 2012 campaign.
"President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus," Romney said in a statement. "He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends."
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, meanwhile, called it a "shocking display of betrayal."
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty released a statement urging the president to stand with Israel. "To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority's agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen," Pawlenty contended.
And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum criticized the president's overall approach to the region. "The fact that the President took six months to simply say that our policy is to oppose violence, support universal rights, and support reform epitomizes the sad state of American diplomacy," Santorum said in a statement of his own.
The president will find out exactly what Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thought of his remarks when the two meet behind closed Oval Office doors at 11:15 a.m. EDT, which will be followed by a joint press appearance at 12:05 p.m. and a working lunch after that.
For more political coverage, visit our politics page.
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