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CNN "American Morning" - Transcript

Interview

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One Republican candidate has credentials his competitors cannot match. Former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman, trailing badly in the polls once worked in the Obama administration as ambassador to China, and he has a ton of foreign policy experience. He tangled last night with Mitt Romney over America's strategy in Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We haven't done a very good job defining and articulating what the end point is in Afghanistan. I think the American people are getting very tired about where we find ourselves today.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Let me let Governor Romney respond.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me respond. Are you suggesting, governor, that we just take all our troops out next week? What's your proposal?

HUNTSMAN: Did you hear what I just said? I said we should draw down from 100,000. We don't need 100,000 troops. Many of them whom can't even cross the wire. We need a presence on the ground that is more akin to 10,000 or 15,000. That will serve our interest in terms of intelligence gathering and special forces response capability.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Jon Huntsman is good enough to join us live from Washington this morning. Good morning.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Costello, good to be with you.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: You're welcome, Hunt. I love that name game thing. But, first of all, how do you think you did in this debate, because some analysts say you had to hit a homerun last night.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think we did just fine. It was a debate that allowed me to talk about the importance of being commander in chief. At the end of the day, you're commander in chief, you make a whole lot of decisions that impact not only this nation, but indeed, the entire world. I've lived overseas four times, Carol.

I've been an ambassador three times to my country. I have a sense for how the pieces of this world fit together, and first and foremost, what we need to do here domestically and getting our house in order to make sure that we have an effective foreign policy. So, I think those points were made.

And now, the market moving event will be New Hampshire. There's no doubt about that. And we're slowly moving up in New Hampshire in ways that make me very, very proud. We have weeks to go, and people there aren't going to coalesce around a candidate until about, I don't know, a week to ten days out, and we have enough time remaining to continue to make our arguments.

COSTELLO: Well, let's talk a little bit more about New Hampshire, because a Super Pack poured a lot of money into advertising there, some $650,000. A lot of people are wondering if your father contributed any money to that Super Pack to help you along with your campaign.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, he's my dad. He's my best friend. I love him dearly. He can do whatever he wants to do. We don't talk about those things, we can't. I'm just delighted that we've actually got some outside assistance from wherever it might come from that believes in our cause and might help us get to where we need to be in the numbers in New Hampshire.

COSTELLO: So, you don't know if your dad contributed to that Super Pack?

HUNTSMAN: No. There's a bright division between what I do and what any Super Pack can do, and you don't talk about those things. I don't wish to talk about -- I haven't seen the ad that's running on television. People have asked me about it. I haven't even seen the ad. I'm busy on the ground.

We've done 103 public events in New Hampshire. We're working it more aggressively than anybody else. That's the kind of work that ultimately is going to pay off even more so than any ads that are on TV.

COSTELLO: Of course, Mitt Romney is leading in the polls in New Hampshire, and judging from your interaction with Mitt Romney last night, some analysts say you two don't get along. It's personal between you, is it?

HUNTSMAN: I think, that's part of the drama and theatrics of politics that I know members of the media love to dwell on. I respect Mitt Romney. I don't know him well. I got to meet him and get to know him somewhat when we overlapped as governors for a brief period of time. Clearly, our approaches are different on a lot of the issues.

My record is very different than his record. And, our styles are different. Some of that came out last night in terms of deferring to people on the ground and I had to come back and say, no, this is what a president does. A president is a commander in chief when it comes time to making decisions that are critically important given how we're spread throughout the world.

I mean, let's face reality. We have 700 installations in 60 different countries around the world today. This is the second decade into the 21st century, and we need a foreign policy and a national security infrastructure that serves our interest today, not from the cold war era.

COSTELLO: It seems like you're just about the only candidate who has not surged. And I was wondering what you make of Newt Gingrich's surge. Do you think that the surge is real? Is Newt Gingrich the real deal?

HUNTSMAN: Well, that's up to the people to decide. All I want to do, Carol, is to make sure that we don't have 15 minutes of fame. I don't want a fleeting ephemeral 15 minutes. I want sustainability. And to have sustainability, you've got to put the building blocks together on the ground that are based on a substantive rise.

And so, we put out detailed policy papers and speeches on our position in the world, on tax reform, on economics, on energy independence, and I think in the end, that's going to -- in order to our benefit because when the cameras are on and when people begin take a look at you, I think in our case, for the first time, I think we may have been dismissed early on as being somebody, you know, who's coming back from China, worked for a Democrat.

And I say a lot of people are just coming around and looking at us for the first time and saying, ah, he may be a whole lot different than we might have imagined before. He's got a conservative governing record in the state of Utah. He's got national security credentials. Maybe, he's got what it takes to go on and actually beat President Obama.

COSTELLO: But you still have so far to go. I mean, you want to show people your substance, but right now, some voters are only seeing your style. In fact, Alina asked some of the people who watched the debate last night from the audience. They asked them -- she asked them how they felt about you. So, let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: Jon Huntsman, he's going to be joining us in our eight o'clock. He's gotten some good reviews in the press. Now, what was your take on how he did last night?

CAROLINE ELLIOTT, ATTENDED CNN'S NATIONAL SECURITY DEBATE: A little less on the thought deficit and a little more on substance.

CHO: That's it?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIOTT: That's it.

CHO: And Larry.

LARRY ARNN, ATTENDED CNN'S NATIONAL SECURITY DEBATE: He's good. He's good.

CHO: Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

ARNN: Well, I mean, you know -- no, not exactly ringing endorsement.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: So, how do you overcome that?

HUNTSMAN: You overcome whatever the critics might be saying by having a market moving event. And let's face it. You've got to move a market in an early primary state and that's New Hampshire. When we move up in New Hampshire, as I know that we will do. That's inevitable. Then, people are going to start paying attention.

They're going to take a look at you. They're going to begin to analyze, critique, and scrutinize you even more than they had in the past, but that's the way these things shift. You need a market moving event in New Hampshire. It's always been that state that has upended conventional wisdom, and I believe that's going to happen again.

And it's going to be based upon work on the ground. It's going to be based upon having a message that is right for our times and that is we have a cancer growing in our country. It's called debt, and it's going to ship wreck the next generation, unless, we can address it properly. And we have another deficit that nobody is focused on and that's the deficit of trust.

People in this country do not trust the institutions of power any longer. They don't trust Congress. We need term limits. We need to deal with the revolving door for lobbyists coming out of Congress, but they don't trust the executive branch and the president who can't lead. They don't trust Wall Street any more with banks that are too big to fail.

So, we're taking the time to talk about not just our economic deficit but a trust deficit as well that I think in the minds of a whole lot of Americans is corrosive longer-term, unless, we can deal with it.

COSTELLO: Just a final question for you. If you don't win in New Hampshire, will you leave the race?

HUNTSMAN: Carol, failure is not an option. You've got to beat market expectations in New Hampshire. I have every expectation that we're going to do better than what the marketplace might be predicting at this point, and I'm thrilled to participate in this race. It is a great honor and privilege to be a candidate for the presidency of the greatest nation that ever was.

COSTELLO: Jon Huntsman, thank you so much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Carol. I appreciate it.

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