CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Jon Huntsman, Jr.
Date: Jan. 6, 2012
Location: Unknown

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BLITZER: And joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire, the former Utah governor, the Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf. It's an honor.

BLITZER: Let's get through a couple of substantive issues right now. First of all, jobs, the economy, issue number one.

Two hundred thousand new jobs created in December, six months in a row of positive job growth, at least 100,000 a month. Unemployment going down. Things are definitely moving in the right direction under President Obama's strategy, right?

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, it's good news but the point is, we could be doing so much better. We are 25 percent of the world's GDP. We have the most productive worker on earth.

We have broken taxes. We have a regulatory environment that is broken. We have banks that are too big to fail. We have a Congress that needs term limits.

We could be breaking out of the box is my point and we are limited by some of these structural problems and these are the arguments I'm taking to the people of New Hampshire. It needs to be cleaned up so we can basically fulfill the measure of what this nation is capable of from an economic performance standpoint.

BLITZER: But are you at least ready to say that at least things are improving economically?

HUNTSMAN: Things are going to improve inevitably. But my point is, imagine how much better and stronger we would be today if there was confidence infused into the economy by way of a tax code that had the loopholes and the deductions phased out in total. If we had taken steps toward doing away with Dodd-Frank and dealing with our health care problems, the confidence would be reemerging in this country in ways that would speak to much stronger job growth.

So I compliment all those who are doing what they're doing today. Of course, it's good news, but my concern is what has been lost in our inability to really translate the last couple of years into forward momentum from a strong economic growth program.

BLITZER: I just want to nail down your position on Iran right now and a potential in Iran for a nuclear bomb. Do you agree with Rick Santorum that if necessary to prevent Iran from having a nuclear bomb, you would go to war against Iran?

HUNTSMAN: All options for me are on the table. It can't be any other way if you conclude you can't live with a nuclear Iran, Wolf. I look at implications in the region with a nuclear Iran. You have nuclear Saudi Arabia most likely.

A nuclear Turkey and then a nuclear Egypt, you combine the proliferation concerns in that region that I think would be unsustainable longer term.

With the kind of language Iran has used towards Israel, and then say, we have a significant problem. I can't live with a nuclear Iran.

Therefore, all elements of power for me would be on the table and I would make sure those messages were sent to Iran clearly and with little ambiguity.

BLITZER: Now in this issue, you strongly like the other Republican candidates disagree with Ron Paul. He takes a very different position on Iran as you well know. This is what he said today in general though about where he stands vis-a-vis the other Republican candidates.

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RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Some of our opponents have labeled us and I just want to talk about that for a minute. They call us dangerous. You know, in a way, we are, to their empire, that's what we're dangerous to!

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BLITZER: Those are pretty strong words from Ron Paul. I wonder if you want to respond to the Texas congressman.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, he's isolationist. He has a fringe view of the world and America's role in the world. And I say this world is a better place with a strong, engaged America and we are not strong and engaged the way we ought to be today.

We can't be engaged effectively with a weak core. That's the one thing I want to fix. I want to make sure we have a strong home right here in our country so that we can project outward our values of liberty, democracy, human rights and free markets.

But I've got to say that as 25 percent of the world's GDP and the only nation on earth that can effectively project values that move people, change history and make the world a better, safer more prosperous place.

I believe America has a role to play in the world and the world benefits from a strong America. Not a disengaged America.

BLITZER: Let's talk politics for a moment. The new Suffolk University poll has you at 8 percent. Mitt Romney at 40 percent. You only have a few days to go. Realistically, can you win in New Hampshire? Look at those numbers.

HUNTSMAN: We don't have to win, Wolf. We have to beat market expectations. There will be several tickets out of New Hampshire. There typically are and I want to make sure that when we wake up on Wednesday morning, first of all, my wife has a smile on her face because that will indicate that we've likely exceed market expectations.

But you all in the pundit class very realistically are going to set the expectations for my campaign and the other campaigns. We've got to wake up when all is said and done on Wednesday morning, or Tuesday night, and find that we have exceeded market expectations.

That's the only way you can continue to raise money and maintain forward momentum and given what I'm feeling on the ground, Wolf, last night, we had a massively large town hall meeting in New Port.

The people are turning out. They're excited. They're walking out of those meetings signing on to our campaigns. Anecdotally, that's the best I can do to tell you that I think there's something happening here that is consistent with a state that always tends to up end conventional wisdom.

We think we know what's going to happen and a different scenario plays out. So I'm excited because we've done everything humanly possible to make a mark in this state.

BLITZER: Even if you exceed expectations in New Hampshire and do well, get a ticket out of there, next stop is South Carolina. Our new CNN/"Time"/ORC poll, you're only at 1 percent in South Carolina. Will you go to South Carolina or just move to the next location, which would be Florida?

HUNTSMAN: South Carolina is a state in which we have some good ground troops. We have Alan Wilson, who is the attorney general. We have Henry McMaster, the former attorney general who barely lost the governorship.

We have the Carol Campbell family, the most beloved governor of the last 50 years. So what we much do you've got to move a market, Wolf, in order for it to translate into downstream performance.

We must do well. We must exceed market expectations here in New Hampshire. That allows us to come out ahead of steam and translate that to South Carolina. I have no doubt about what we can do in South Carolina. We first must perform here.

BLITZER: One final question, you've got three daughters very, very actively campaigning on your behalf. They're lovely young women. They've been doing a remarkable job.

Speak to us from the heart a little bit. What does it feel like as a father to see your daughters out there working for you as hard as they are?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it's -- it touches an emotional core in dad. And I can tell you when I sat just about an hour ago watching one of my daughters on a national news program live selling her dad and doing her best to put forward the arguments that would lead a potential voter to conclude that her dad had what it takes to create a better tomorrow.

I looked at that and I thought, I can't even believe it. My own daughter, my own family deeply engaged in a process that makes America a better place. It's tough. It's grinding. It's gruelling, but Wolf, when you do it as a family, it takes on extra, extra important meaning.

BLITZER: Well, you're blessed to have a beautiful family like that. Wonderful kids, a great wife. Good luck on Tuesday, Governor.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. Great being with you.

BLITZER: So, can Jon Huntsman exceed expectations in New Hampshire? We'll talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Leslie Sanchez, they're standing by live.

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