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NBC "Meet the Press" - Transcript

Interview

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Governor Huntsman, welcome.

MR. JON HUNTSMAN: David, it's good to be with you. Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Good to have you here.

I have to ask you about Herman Cain; he's your competitor. He's on top of the polls right now. He's a front-runner in this race.

MR. HUNTSMAN: Right.

MR. GREGORY: I talked to a Republican this week who, who said, after the events, "Is he disqualified, unqualified, or will the conservative base just love him more?"

MR. HUNTSMAN: That's totally up to Herman Cain, a person I've come to know as a decent, decent man and a good candidate. And now it's been said over and over again, it's up to Herman Cain to get the information out and get it out in total. But that's important because we've got some really issues to discuss in this campaign.

MR. GREGORY: Right.

MR. HUNTSMAN: And this is taking all the bandwidth out of the discussion. So we're not able to talk about jobs, we're not able to talk about our position in the world. And that hurts, that hurts the American people.

MR. GREGORY: But you think he can't say "end of discussion" until he gets more information out?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Until all the information comes out. It's got to come out in total. Legitimate questions have been raised, and that information has to come forward.

MR. GREGORY: What is your bigger concern as a rival? The sexual harassment controversy or lack of foreign policy experience that he's showing?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I think, at some point, the substance really does matter. And you've got to have a commander in chief who actually understands the world in which we live. It's complex, it's confusing, it's unpredictable, and it's not going to get any less so as we move forward. So the more that we can spend time focused on the issues and plumb out whether or not the candidates have what it takes on the leadership side and on the experience side, and in terms of rebuilding trust in the system. The one thing that concerns me most, as I look at where we are, there is--we're running out of trust in terms of how the American people see our key institutions of power, whether that's Washington and Congress, whether the executive branch or whether Wall Street. And when you start running on empty in terms of trust, that puts our country in a very vulnerable spot.

MR. GREGORY: You know China well. Herman Cain said this week they didn't have nuclear capability. What does that say to you about the level of preparedness to be president on his part? That has to be a factor in how he's evaluated.

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I think there needs to be a baseline, a level of knowledge from a foreign policy standpoint. But specific to China, I mean, as far as the eye can see into the 21st Century, the United States and China are on the world stage. And whether that's in the economic realm or whether it's in the security realm, we've got to figure out how to make that relationship work. And it would be nice to have a president in office who actually had a head-start and actually knew them intimately well in terms of the economics and the security issues involved.

MR. GREGORY: Mitt Romney was the one who you were supposed to be drafting most closely. Everybody talked about Huntsman, Romney fighting this thing out in New Hampshire and beyond. You haven't come close to him yet. Yet, you think there's a real issue with whether he can beat President Obama.

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I, I think there is an, an issue on the flip-flops as it relates to trust. I don't know that he can go on to beat President Obama, given, given his record. I mean, when there is a question about whether you're running for the White House or running for the waffle house, you've got a real problem with the American people.

MR. GREGORY: And his big flip-flop to you is what?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I think there's a range of them. But when you have something as central as life that you flip-flop on, when you have a Second Amendment, when you have health care, you have a range of issues that--on taxes, for example, that he's been on both sides of. And I think that what the American people want today more than anything else is a level of consistency. They want trust. They want a level of trust in their elected officials.

MR. GREGORY: You think that's a reason why he's capping out at where he is among conservatives at 25 percent or thereabouts?

MR. HUNTSMAN: I, I think that could very well be the issue with not being able to break beyond a certain level. So, if you have 100 percent name recognition in a place like New Hampshire, everyone kind of has done the analysis and made their evaluation, you know, there may be something there that, that doesn't allow you to get beyond a certain ceiling.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about faith and the Mormon faith. You're a Mormon, so is Romney. This was a poll that Quinnipiac took in May that indicated, if you look at the numbers, more than a third think that they're uncomfortable with someone of the Mormon faith being a presidential candidate. Do you think there will be a Mormon president, and when?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Oh, of course there will be. I think this election cycle you--we could very well prove that point. But I think it's a nonsense issue. I, I completely think it's a nonsense issue. There is no bandwidth left in our political discussion to focus any of our effort or time on religion when we've got jobs, when we've got an economy that's broken, when this country has hit the wall. I don't think people are spending a whole lot of time evaluating one's religion. They may have in years past, but I think we're beyond that point this election cycle.

MR. GREGORY: You've talked about other candidates in the race. We've talked about Cain, we've talked about Romney, but you've also talked about some who were too outside the mainstream, too extreme in their views to be elected president. Are you talking about some of your rivals right now in this race?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I'm talking about a Republican Party that dismisses mainstream science. I think in order for us to be successful we've got to win over some independents, we've got to do the math. The math has to be in our favor. You can't run away from mainstream science, for example, and expect, and expect to win the race. You can't be on an extreme end of politics and expect to win over the independent vote. That's going to be a critical calculus in making sure that the next president is a Republican. You can't avoid that reality.

MR. GREGORY: But you would not put Romney in that camp per se. Yet, you're saying unequivocally he cannot beat President Obama?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Listen, when I stand on the debate stage after the whole debt ceiling debate has been had and every single person on that stage was in favor of default, I mean, I don't think you can get any more extreme than that at a time in this nation's history where we've got to stand up as 25 percent of the world's GDP, we've got to fix the problems as opposed to default. A default would have destroyed this economy. Retirements and 401(k) programs would have been shipwrecked.

MR. GREGORY: But my question is, Mitt Romney in your view cannot beat President Obama?

MR. HUNTSMAN: I, I think when you're on too many sides of the issues of the day, when you don't have that core, when there's that element of trust out there, I think that becomes a problem, and I think it makes you unelectable against Barack Obama.

MR. GREGORY: You wouldn't support him if he were the nominee?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Oh, of course I would. Of course I would support him.

MR. GREGORY: But you wouldn't--you don't think that he'd be able to overcome...

MR. HUNTSMAN: But I think the electability issue is a, is a very real one.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about where you are on the ideological spectrum because I think some people may have some questions. You've talked about some candidates being outside mainstream issues of Republican thought. Here you were in 2008 at the Republican nominating convention, national convention, giving the nominating speech for Governor Sarah Palin.

(Videotape, September 4, 2008)

MR. HUNTSMAN: We are looking for a beacon of light to show us the way.

Our nation's challenges are real and daunting, but we will not despair. The future depends on leadership, the kind of leadership that carries a confident and independent spirit, borne out of experience, hardship, disappointment, and success. We are looking for Sarah!

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: You were under the weather, I should point out. Are you a Sarah Palin Republican?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, listen, I was asked to introduce her and nominate her because I think I was about the only person who actually knew her after John McCain had, had picked her as a running mate. I was chair of the Western Governors Association, I had worked to a limited extent with Sarah Palin. So when you're looking for somebody who can actually go up and nominate her, I was asked to do it, and I did as told.

MR. GREGORY: So you mean you pumped up the case there? You didn't really believe...

MR. HUNTSMAN: I, I...

MR. GREGORY: ...that the country was waiting for Sarah Palin?

MR. HUNTSMAN: I, I wanted to help my good friend John McCain. I wanted to help his ticket. I wanted to move the Republicans toward victory, and I stepped up and I did what I thought was right.

MR. GREGORY: You think she was capable of being vice president of the United States?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Oh, I think she would--I think absolutely she was capable of being vice president. She was elected as governor. She served a couple of years well, and I think she would have learned a lot on the job.

MR. GREGORY: Do you share some of her views?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, I, I haven't put that to the test. I don't know what her views in, in foreign policy. I don't know what her views are in terms of tax policy and economic policy. But I assume that they would be in the tradition of conservative governances we have seen with a lot of good Republican governors.

MR. GREGORY: Here's the satirical paper The Onion with a headline on Thursday, "Huntsman Quietly Relieved To Be Polling Poorly Among GOP Voters." Quote, "`These People Scare The Bejeezus Out Of Me,' Says Candidate." That's a fake quote, but sometimes satire has a ring of truth to it. Are you a moderate?

MR. HUNTSMAN: You know, I don't think people should confuse a moderate attitude with, with a moderate record. I mean, just look at what I did as governor of the state of Utah. First of all, I was twice elected in Utah, which is a conservative state. The second time, 80 percent of the vote. I got all the Republicans, got a lot of independents, and won a lot of Democrats, too. That's called leadership. But you look at the leadership, and it's based on pro-life, always have been, pro Second Amendment, pro growth, the largest tax cut that state had ever seen in history, the second voucher bill ever in the nation, I signed. Healthcare reform without a mandate. I mean, the list goes on and on. You'd be hard pressed when you look at my governing record not to say that's a good, conservative governing record and style.

MR. GREGORY: I want to ask you about one of your own flip-flops that's gotten some attention, and that's on the issue of health care. Back in 2008, the issue of an individual mandate, can you compel folks to buy healthcare insurance under a reform plan, this is what you said, "I wouldn't shy away from mandates. I think if you're going to get it done, and get it done right, mandate has to be part of it in some way, shape, or form." Now you're saying a mandate is unconstitutional.

MR. HUNTSMAN: We had...

MR. GREGORY: Doesn't this smack of the same kind of flip-flops that you say...

MR. HUNTSMAN: We had...

MR. GREGORY: ...makes somebody unelectable?

MR. HUNTSMAN: We had--well, you have to see what I delivered as governor of the state. What I signed my name to was a market-based healthcare reform package. We had a wide-ranging discussion with health care--this is enormously large and complicated as an issue. And we still need to find a way forward to close the gaps--that closes the gap on the uninsured, that gets us more in the way of affordable healthcare policies. We still don't have those today. But we, we looked at both sides of the issue. We spent months and months immersing ourselves in the data, in the policy implications of what a mandate would do vs. a market-based approach, then we opted for a market-based approach.

MR. GREGORY: But should...

MR. HUNTSMAN: But did we live with both sides and debate those? Of course we did. That's what you do with government.

MR. GREGORY: You said in 2008 "you've got to look at mandates." Now you're saying it's unconstitutional.

MR. HUNTSMAN: But look what I signed. What I signed is basically where we were at the end of the discussion. I signed a market-based system. And today, although it hasn't completely closed the gap on the uninsured, I believe a market-based system with expanded choice and options is ultimately going to be right for this country.

MR. GREGORY: You have to compel people to buy insurance to make it work?

MR. HUNTSMAN: No, you don't. You have to have affordable policies. You've got to have affordable policies, which we don't have enough of today. And then you've got to break down the barrier state by state to allow somebody in the state of New Hampshire, for example, to access an affordable policy in the state of Utah. You can't do that today. That'll drive the marketplace toward greater affordability, and I think that's where we need to be longer term as opposed to a mandate.

MR. GREGORY: You've said that the 2009 economic stimulus was too small. Do you think government has to play a role now if it's going to help us get out of this cycle of slow economic growth?

MR. HUNTSMAN: We're not going to bail out banks anymore in this country. The quantitative easing programs have been proven not to work. They're proven not to work. We've blown through trillions and trillions of dollars with nothing to show on the balance sheet but additional debt. No uplift in the well being of our people, no improvements in joblessness. I say, you know, the stimulus that I thought was going to work and that we talked about initially was that directed toward more in the way of business tax cuts. That's the way it was talked about initially, at least a significant part of it, and I think that would have been a good step. But, beyond that, we've wasted a whole lot of money in this country. The will of the people is such that we won't do that again.

MR. GREGORY: If you were the deciding vote, you would have voted against TARP?

MR. HUNTSMAN: I would have voted against TARP.

MR. GREGORY: To bail out the banks.

MR. HUNTSMAN: I would have voted for...

MR. GREGORY: If you were the deciding vote, you would have voted against it with the Treasury secretary and heads of major banks saying we could be risking the entire economy.

MR. HUNTSMAN: Listen, it's...

MR. GREGORY: We don't know for sure.

MR. HUNTSMAN: You, you, you can't go back and relive those days. You can say that we've learned a lot, a lot of lessons from those days.

MR. GREGORY: But no, but you can, Governor. This is important, and I've asked other candidates this. It's easy now to look back and say, "Oh, I wouldn't have supported that." If you were the deciding vote under those circumstances when, when you have major figures saying we could risk the entire U.S. economy if we don't bail out the banks, you would have said, "Wrong thing to do. I'm going to vote against it."

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, let me tell you what I did say. I said we need more of a Chapter 11 reorganization step first, is what I said about the auto bailout and beyond. We don't have a Chapter 11 reorganization provision. We should have had something like it. I mean, I went on the record saying that about, about TARP at the time. And that's the way I feel today.

MR. GREGORY: Quick one on social policy. The personhood amendment that we talked about in Mississippi, for anti-abortion forces, kind of the next chapter, saying that life begins at fertilization. Do you agree with that?

MR. HUNTSMAN: I think it goes too far. I mean, I'm pro life and always have been. I have two little adopted girls to prove the point. But I think life begins at conception. And I, you know, have certain caveats or exclusions in the case of rape, incest, and life of the mother. But I've, I've always been--I've always been pro life and proud of my record.

MR. GREGORY: Let's talk about New Hampshire. You're betting the house on New Hampshire, doing well there. First look at your standing in the national polls with everybody, you've got Romney and Cain in front. You are down at 1 percent in the polls if we look at the national numbers. Here are some of the trending polls in New Hampshire just over the past month. You're still well below 10 percent. You're not catching on. What has to happen in New Hampshire for you to stay in the race? And what has to happen or, if whatever happens, that gets you out of the race?

MR. HUNTSMAN: We're going on number 100 in terms of events in New Hampshire in the next week or two. Our town hall meetings are packed; we're connecting with people there. I have every confidence that the work we're doing on the ground, coupled with some advertisements on the air, we're going to be up and we're going to be up considerably over the next two months.

MR. GREGORY: Will you put your own money in the race if you have to?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Yes, we already put a little bit in. But, you know, as with, with, with arms control policy, you don't want to unilaterally disarm. We've gotten the race off to a start, at least by putting some of our own in. But what is noteworthy is, as we go up in the polls in New Hampshire--you know, we've come from zero, and now we're at 10 or 11 in a recent poll--the fundraising as come up about 250 percent. So it follows the marketplace. And as we do better in New Hampshire, we do better fundraising, too.

MR. GREGORY: If you don't win New Hampshire, can you stay in this race?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, New Hampshire is it. I mean, we're, we're putting everything into New Hampshire, and we're doing it right. New Hampshire is the window through which the people of that state and, indeed, the people of this country, get to see, meet, and analyze the candidates. There's no artificiality. It's all the real thing. And they want leadership and they want real ideas.

MR. GREGORY: So surrogates in a campaign matter a great deal to any campaigner, and you've got three of the best. Your three oldest daughters making some fun about Herman Cain's smoking ad, and they've put it up there. This is what it looks like in part.

(Videotape of Jon Huntsman ad)

Unidentified Woman #1: (Wearing fake mustache, glasses) No one's ever seen a trio like the Jon 2012 girls. We need you to get involved to make sure our next president is based on substance.

Unidentified Woman #2: (Wearing fake mustache, glasses) Not sound bites.

Unidentified Woman #3: (Wearing fake mustache, glasses) Check out our dad at jon2012.com and follow us on Twitter@jon2012girls.

(Girls then, using bubble wands, blow bubbles in unison)

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: I don't think I've seen anything like that. What can your daughters do for you that you can't do for yourself?

MR. HUNTSMAN: Well, so you give a major speech on foreign policy, David, you know, changing America's role in the world, and you get three, three hits on YouTube. My, my daughters go up with some silly ad, and they get a half a million or whatever it is today. It goes viral. So this is the world of politics we live in today. You get your message out in different ways.

MR. GREGORY: All right. Governor Huntsman, thank you very much.

MR. HUNTSMAN: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

MR. GREGORY: Look luck on the trail.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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