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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

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Jon Huntsman, who's focusing like a laser beam on New Hampshire, he hasn't been able to climb out of single digits. He's now at nine percent.

Joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, the former US ambassador to China, the former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JOHN HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, Wolf, great to be with you, thank you.

BLITZER: All right, so you're basically ignoring Iowa, you're spending all your time in New Hampshire. In order for you to survive New Hampshire, how well do you have to do?

HUNTSMAN: We have to beat market expectations. You have to have a message that connects with the people here on the ground, and that we have.

I'm the only candidate in the race who, by virtue of background and by virtue of real ideas that I put forward to the American people, will be able to tackle the two deficits that we face in this country.

One is an economic deficit, $15 trillion in debt, the need to fire our engines of growth, as I did as governor in our state of Utah, taking it to number one as a job creator.

But just as importantly, Wolf, we need someone who can tackle the trust deficit. Because I believe our trust deficit in America is as corrosive as the economic deficit, and that means we've got to have a candidate and, ultimately, a president who can work for term limits in Congress --

BLITZER: All right.

HUNTSMAN: Who can work toward closing the revolving door, and who can deal with the banks on Wall Street. We've got banks that are too big to fail, Wolf, and we're setting ourselves up for another bailout, and the American people deserve better than that.

BLITZER: Here's what an editorial in the "New Hampshire Union-Leader" said today about you, I'll put it up on the screen.

"Huntsman says he's a conservative, and on some issues, such as tax policy, he's pretty good. But he constantly signals to moderates that he's really one of them when he goes in for global warming and a show weakness foreign policy. He often comes across as saying what the audience wants to hear."

Go ahead and respond.

HUNTSMAN: Well, they -- the editorial board, there, at the "Union- Leader," they have their opinion, and they take their shots at all the candidates, and I would simply ask them to do what other newspapers in New Hampshire -- and we just got our fourth newspaper endorsement in this state. We picked up half of all the newspapers that have endorsed, now, in this state.

Take a look at my record, and they're going to find that I'm really the only consistent conservative in this race. Pro life, I always have been. Pro second amendment, I don't vary. Pro growth, I delivered the largest tax cut in the history of my state.

Health care reform without a mandate, the second voucher for education reform signed in this entire country. I support the Ryan plan on debt and spending. The list goes on and on and on. And also, one reason, Wolf, why a lot of conservatives are coming around, those who may have glossed over me at the very beginning because I crossed a partisan line to become US ambassador to China, and they're saying, "We missed something. We've gone on, now, to look at everybody else, not to our liking, by the way. And we're now looking at Huntsman again, because his record does suggest that he is the real consistent conservative in this race."

So, we had that going forth --

BLITZER: And I --

HUNTSMAN: -- while at the same time, we're moving in the right direction here in New Hampshire. I can feel it with every passing town hall meeting.

BLITZER: I seem to remember that the editorial page editors of the "Wall Street Journal" gave your economic policy program a pretty good review on their pages. But let me ask you this question. Are you a moderate?

HUNTSMAN: Listen, I am a consistent conservative. I was reelected in one of the most conservative states in America with almost 80 percent of the vote. It would be hard to look at my record and suggest that I'm anything other than a consistent conservative.

And don't mistake a moderate temperament for a moderate record. I'm one who also believes in bringing people together in making a decision.

And let's not forget that this nation is crying out, Wolf, crying out for our people to be brought together. We've got to be reminded that we're all Americans at the end of the day, and we've got to come together at some point to solve our problems.

We're going to have our differences in terms of the pathways that we choose, but we've got to have a leader, like I was in the state of Utah, who believes in bringing people together and believes in leading based upon the real American spirit.

BLITZER: Here's a radio ad that Rick Santorum has just put up. I'm going to play a little bit of it, because I want you to respond. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Simple question. Which candidate gives us the best chance of defeating Barack Obama? The answer? Rick Santorum. Rick Santorum has more foreign policy credentials than any of the candidates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You want to disagree with him on that last point? HUNTSMAN: Well, I'd have to draw the spirit of Pat Buchanan in saying this, Wolf, but I'm not sure the time spent in an International House of Pancakes necessarily qualifies for foreign policy experience.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, wait a second --

HUNTSMAN: I've lived over --

BLITZER: In fairness, he spent, what? A long time as a member of the Armed Services Committee in the US Senate.

HUNTSMAN: A lot of people can claim that, and Rick's a terrific guy, and I respect his service. I've lived overseas four times. I've been an ambassador for my country three times, including managing the most difficult, challenging, and important relationship of the 21st century, that of China.

I've been on the ground as a practitioner of foreign policy, and I think the American people will recognize that.

And in the end, I think that will be an important consideration on their part, because the world is complex and confusing, it's not getting any less so, and I think the American people are going to want someone who knows intimately well the Chinese.

When you look at our most important economic relationship going forward, and our most significant economic opportunity, and where our strategic challenges lie, and that will be in the Asia-Pacific region, where I've spent a whole lot of years.

BLITZER: Your foreign policy is vastly different than Ron Paul's. Here's the question I've been asking to the other candidates as well. If he were to get the Republican nomination, would you be able to vote for him?

HUNTSMAN: That's a hypothetical, Wolf, and I ain't going there.

BLITZER: It's a simple question, it's a yes or no.

HUNTSMAN: No, it's not a simple question, if you feel you're going to be the nominee, and I feel I'm going to be the nominee.

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich said he couldn't vote for him.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, if Ron Paul --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney said he could, Rick Santorum said he could --

HUNTSMAN: -- if Ron Paul can get to the finish line --

BLITZER: -- so, you think you'd be a yes or a no if he were to get the nomination? HUNTSMAN: If Ron Paul can get to the finish line, I'd be happy to support him, but he won't get to the finish line because he's unelectable, and in part, he's unelectable because of his worldview based -- some of it based on pure isolationism.

And the American people are simply not going to support that at a time when the most transcendent challenge of this decade is Iran and whether or not they acquire weapons of mass destruction.

The American people aren't going there, so I think it will remain a hypothetical question for the rest of the campaign cycle.

BLITZER: But obviously, I think -- from based on everything you're saying, you wouldn't be able to vote for him. It's not -- it's not that complicated of a question.

HUNTSMAN: I can't buy the isolationist views. I can't buy somebody who's not going to be engaged with the world when the world is crying out for American leadership. The world is crying out for the values that we project when we are strong as a country.

And right now, we're weak, our core is crumbling, and when our core is crumbling, we are not projecting the values of liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets.

I want to fix that core. I want to get back on our feet, I want our economy strengthened and our manufacturing muscles strengthened, as well. I want to get back in the game.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. It's a pleasure to be with you, as always.

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