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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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BLITZER: What do you want to say to this pastor?

JON HUNTSMAN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's unfortunate that one person is driving the narrative during a time when we have 15 million unemployed. We have two wars abroad, we have an uncertain position in the world. We have failing schools. We have the most important election of my lifetime in the 2012 election cycle.

The fact that some moron can stand up and make a comment like that, you know, first of all it's outrageous. Second of all, we're spending so much time discussing it makes it even worse.

I mean, you give a major foreign policy speech today, as I did. The questions that come after the foreign policy speech are more focused on religion, as opposed to our place in the world. This does not help the American people come to terms with the choices that they have in the 2012 election cycle. And as far as I'm concerned, let's stick to the big issues that really matter and leave religion off the table. Last I looked that wasn't a prerequisite or requirement for the presidency.

BLITZER: Which is a fair point. I want to get to your foreign policy, your domestic policy in a moment. What do you say to some of your fellow Republicans presidential candidates who don't even acknowledge that you are in fact Christian?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I don't have any time to discuss this kind of issue. I say let less respect religious beliefs. Let's show a little more tolerance in terms of what people's belief systems are.

Thomas Jefferson got it right when he spoke about tolerance for religions, and the fact this they wouldn't play a role in American politics. And here we sit over 200 years later spending more time than it's worth on this very subject. Let's stick to the core issues that affect this nation and our position in the world, and regaining our competitive core in the 21st century and leave the rest to the side.

BLITZER: I suspect, I know you, Governor, if one of your supporters, someone who introduced you at a major policy conference were to say awful things about another Republican presidential candidate, you would distance yourself very, very quickly from that pastor, or someone else. Are you would run away as quickly as you can. Are you concerned that Rick Perry, who was introduced by this pastor at the Values Voter Summit, is really not distancing himself, challenging, going after this pastor in a way that you probably would like him to?

HUNTSMAN: Make an immediate and decisive break, period. This kind of talk, I think, has no home in American politics these days. You know, anyone who is associated with somebody willing to make those comments ought to stand up and distance themselves in very bold language. And that hasn't been done. And Rick ought to stand up and do that.

BLITZER: Why is Herman Cain doing so well in all of these most recent polls?

HUNTSMAN: Well, everyone has had an opportunity to be the flavor of the week. You know, we have been in this race a little over three months and we have had probably five frontrunners, four frontrunners in about five or six months and they go up and they go down.

I think Herman has captured the imagination of some of the activists in the party. He's made good presentations. He's had a good debate performance. He's a compelling speaker. What I hope these people begin to look at is beyond just the periphery.

What has a candidate done in terms of leadership and in terms of leading a state and in terms of leading large complicated entities? What do candidates know about America's role in the world in the 21st Century? What are they putting forward in terms of real proposals that are not just proposals for the sake of putting forward ideas, but that are realistic in terms of what can get done.

Now I put forward an economic proposal that "Wall Street Journal" has come out and endorsed as best of the bunch. Today, we had a foreign policy speech in where we talk about creating a vision that is 21st Century focused as opposed to based more on the George Kennan post- World War II model.

These are the kinds of things that ultimately are going to sink in with the voters first here in New Hampshire. And I like the fact that we're beginning to get traction in this state. I like the fact that as we had today and yesterday packed town hall meetings.

People are coming out. Republicans and independents are coming out who are looking for vision. They're looking for solutions. They're looking for a practical and visionary pathway forward. That's what we're providing. BLITZER: You've been certainly distinguishing yourself and moving away from some of the other candidates on some of these issues. But a lot of folks are wondering, do you regret in that first Republican debate raising your hand when you were asked if you would support 10 to one, $10 in spending cuts for $1 in tax increases, you went along with all the other Republican candidates. Was that a mistake?

HUNTSMAN: I don't like tax increases. But when you raise your hand, you don't have enough time to say well my tax policy actually calls for the phasing out of all the loopholes and deductions. I would take that revenue and reinvest it back in the tax code. You know, it shows how we have dumb down the whole debate process.

Where we talk more about vaccinations, talk more about books and what they have to say about Social Security nonsense. And we focus much less on the truly important issues like tax reform, like regulatory reform, like energy independence and like our position abroad.

But when you're asked just to raise a hand, you don't have any chance beyond that to explain it. It does it put people in an awkward position and, of course, your knee jerk reaction, Wolf, is to say I don't like tax increases, I'm not going to allow tax increases just like when I was governor.

But there is more to it than meets the eye. You've get the work of the country done. That is what not happening today. There is no leadership. There is no ability to get the work of the people done. We're at extreme ends politically.

We're finger pointing. We're taking cheap shots at each other. We're becoming more partisan with each passing month. All the while the American people want action. They just want the work of their country done.


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