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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript

Interview

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HUNTSMAN: I'm putting you on early notice that we're going to win the New Hampshire primary. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: At the moment, the best poll for Jon Huntsman shows him in a race for third. I spoke with him just before last night's debate and his prediction has changed slightly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUNTSMAN: We're going to do well. You try to forecast to the best of your ability based on the information you have. What holds true is the fact that we're going to beat market expectations. We don't have to win...

CROWLEY: Can I just stop you? Because I don't understand. I've heard you say that. Tell me what the market expectations are.

HUNTSMAN: I don't know what they will be because you will set them. The pundits who are following the race, they will determine what the bar is that we must clear on Tuesday. And wherever that political marketplace is set -- and everyone will know that, Huntsman has to do thus and such to move on, we have to clear that hurdle when we wake up on Wednesday.

CROWLEY: Do you know that?

HUNTSMAN: I don't yet know what that is going to be.

CROWLEY: But surely you must have -- what I mean is do you know what your market expectation is?

HUNTSMAN: I know what I think we're capable of doing.

CROWLEY: Which is?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I can feel it on the ground. All you can do is your very best. We've been to all ten counties multiple times. We've got a terrific grassroots organization in place. We've got a message that is connecting with people. I feel the energy.

You can look at the polls but you know they are a snapshot of various factors at a particular moment. You get one that says 8 percent, one that says 16 percent, all I can tell you is there is something on the ground that tells me that all of the work we've done -- 160-plus individual public events -- is going to pay off in the end and we're going to prove the point, Candy, that grassroots politics still matters in a state like New Hampshire.

CROWLEY: Would it be safe to say that your motto at this point has to be either show big or go home?

HUNTSMAN: We have to show big.

CROWLEY: Is that fair?

HUNTSMAN: We have to show big. You've got to move a market, you know what I mean? You've got to make something happen one of the early states to prove the point that you are electable, that the math can line up in your favor. And I believe that's going to happen right here.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about electability. You came home from your job as ambassador to China. Boy, you were the "it" person. Jon Huntsman, he's going to come in and he will be so great. Is this the Republican Party that you expected to be courting?

HUNTSMAN: I've always been a constant Republican. I've worked for three Republican presidents. I haven't varied or wavered. The Republican Party as a backdrop is going to change every now and again. We've had Abraham Lincoln's party. We've had Teddy Roosevelt's party. We've had Eisenhower's party, Nixon's party, Reagan's party and beyond.

It is always remaking itself based upon leadership. And we don't have a whole lot of leadership right now today and I think that's part of the problem. So you get the Ron Paul foreign policy based on complete isolationism, you get the Mitt Romney foreign policy based upon the Cold War mentality. I'm not sure either one of them is the way forward and that's the reason this selection is so critically important, not only for the high stakes for the American people, but for the definition of the Republican Party going forward.

CROWLEY: There is a saying there is no greater burden than high expectations. Do you feel frustrated at all?

HUNTSMAN: No. Because all you can do is your best. I have a message that I believe deeply in about the two deficits that plague us most -- the economic deficit, the debt we're about to hand down to the next generation, which is toxic. It is a national security problem. And the trust deficit, because people no longer trust their institutions of power or their elected officials. And I say that's probably as corrosive and the economic deficit we face.

I feel deeply about it. I've worked every single angle. My wife Mary Kay has worked every angle. Our kids are in it. Everyone's having a great time. We feel that we've worked every possible angle and approach to being honest and sincere at who we are.

CROWLEY: Are you completely comfortable in this Republican Party in its current permutation? And by that I mean the Tea Party conservatives and the Ron Paul faction. Are you completely comfortable?

HUNTSMAN: I am comfortable that I'm at the center of gravity for the Republican Party. I proved that when I was governor of a very conservative state. I was re-elected with almost 80 percent of the vote. And it proved to me that it isn't as much about party, it is about leadership. We got Republicans, we got independents. I won more Democratic votes than my Democratic opponent, not because I'm...

CROWLEY: That's not a huge selling point by the way, as you know, in the primaries.

HUNTSMAN: But here's the point. People want leadership. They don't want party orthodoxy exclusively. That's got to drive the core of somebody, that consistency. But leadership at the end of the day that's going to prove to people that we can have a new and a better tomorrow, that's what's important. I think that's not only what's lacking in Washington and why there's no trust in the system, but right now I fear it is lacking in politics generally.

CROWLEY: Governor Huntsman, I'm going to ask you to stick with me for a minute. We're going to take a quick break, and when we come back we're going to try to get the governor's take on his competition. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back.

Governor, you want to end corporate subsidies, cut regulations, lower taxes, do more on energy development, repeal President Obama's health care plan. Differentiate yourself from Mitt Romney. What is the single biggest policy difference you have with the front-runner?

HUNTSMAN: Trust.

CROWLEY: You don't think he's trustworthy?

HUNTSMAN: I didn't say that. I said he's morphed himself so many times that for many of the voters I think they're going to find during an election that is based on trust that they're going to have a hard time getting a bead on where his core is.

You run for the senate as a liberal. You run for governor as a moderate. You run for president as a conservative. Where are you at the end of the day? That's a legitimate question that people have.

CROWLEY: If Mitt Romney should win this, would you be able to trust him as the Republican candidate?

HUNTSMAN: Oh, sure, I'll support the Republican nominee. You'll do everything you can. That's what you do when all is said and done.

CROWLEY: I want you to look at some of the other folks that are -- you shared the stage with them since this summer, had a chance kind of to size up their policies and their personalities. Newt Gingrich, is -- does he have what it takes to become president? And differentiate yourself from him.

HUNTSMAN: I'm not a Washington insider. He would carry some baggage because of his K Street affiliation. And, again, at a point in time where trust is so critically important, I believe the American people are looking at somebody -- for somebody who can stand up to Congress, who isn't from that culture. And I think that...

CROWLEY: He's pretty tough.

HUNTSMAN: ... that's a liability. Other than that, Newt is a thoughtful, smart man. I respect the revolution that he left -- that he led as speaker of the house. It was a big part of my generation growing up. I mean, he was the most prominent Republican in the country and one of the top leaders anywhere in the nation at the time. He led it by force of ideas. And I have high regard for where he has been and what he has done.

CROWLEY: Do you think he's too tainted to become president?

HUNTSMAN: We'll let the voters decide.

CROWLEY: You don't want to take a position on that?

HUNTSMAN: I don't want to take a position on that because I tend to see the good in people. And Newt, to me, is a distinguished public servant. He has made his fair share of enemies, even within the very institution in which he served. But I have to say, when you look back at his track record, he was bold and he was revolutionary and at a time when this nation needed it, he led out.

CROWLEY: What about Rick Santorum?

HUNTSMAN: I don't know Rick well, but I give him high marks for being consistent in his approach to infusing a moral ethic into ordinary economic policy. Most people don't take that approach. I respect his consistency there.

CROWLEY: And Ron Paul.

HUNTSMAN: Ron Paul is another one who has been consistent, although I believe his ideology is not where the American people are at all. I think the idea that you can be an isolationist...

CROWLEY: Why is he doing so well?

HUNTSMAN: You do well with 15 percent for three election cycles running. He has done very well with 15 percent consistently over and over again. It is breaking out of the 15 percent that I believe are at the extreme ends of the political spectrum.

It is interesting how he brings them both together, whether it is a sense of isolationism or whether it is legalizing drugs, he brings a lot of the extreme ends of the political spectrum together, which to my mind means that he is not electable in the end.

That doesn't mean I don't like him. I respect him for what he has done. He has led a charge that he believes in and anyone who's willing to do that, I have high regard for.

CROWLEY: But you would vote for him if it were him versus President Obama?

HUNTSMAN: His isolationism during a time when Iran is on the ascent, during a time when the world is more in need of America's values, of liberty and democracy and human rights and free markets, I would have a very, very tough time with.

CROWLEY: So you might -- you could pull the lever for a Democrat.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don't think that will even be a possibility.

CROWLEY: You want to pull it for yourself, I understand.

HUNTSMAN: That's tired rhetoric. I'm not even going to try that one. But, you know, these are all hypotheticals. And to say that Ron Paul will get to the finish line is just not a reality.

CROWLEY: What about Rick Perry? What's your take on him?

HUNTSMAN: Rick is a good man and he's a personal friend. We worked together as governors. He has a lot to add to this nation because of his economic development track record and his ability to manage fairly effectively a large and complicated state.

I think he's in it for another state or two to see how things go in South Carolina. His base is going to be split by Santorum. There is no doubt about that. But I think he wants to give it one last shot to see how things go. And then we'll have to see.

CROWLEY: You're -- nary a discouraging word for you except on Ron Paul, which is interesting to me. HUNTSMAN: Well, the isolationism is a part that I, and I think a lot of other Americans have hard time with. We agree on Afghanistan. I want to get out of Afghanistan. I think we've done everything that we can do in Afghanistan. I want to recognize it for what it is as a counter- terror challenge, not a counterinsurgency opportunity.

But other than that, we part company on most other international issues.

CROWLEY: Governor Huntsman, are we going to see you in South Carolina?

HUNTSMAN: I fully intend to be in South Carolina with a head of steam.

CROWLEY: Thank you so much.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Candy.

CROWLEY: Appreciate it.

HUNTSMAN: It is a pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

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