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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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He skipped the last Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas saying he wanted to focus in on the first in the nation primary state of New Hampshire. But former Utah Governor John Huntsman is trailing in that critical state while rival Mitt Romney is enjoying a solid lead. John Huntsman is joining us from Salt Lake City.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

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

BLITZER: Let's talk about Mitt Romney a little bit. George Will, the conservative columnist writing in an upcoming edition of "The Washington Post" says this about Mitt Romney. He says, "Romney, supposedly the Republican most electable next November, is a recidivist reviser of his principles, who is not only becoming less electable, he might endanger GOP chances of capturing the Senate. Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor, who takes his bearings from data."

Do you agree with George Will on that?

HUNTSMAN: Well, those are pretty tough words, Wolf. All I can say is this is a time when this nation wants leadership. We've been looking for leadership for some time in the White House. We haven't found it. This is when the candidates need to stand up and show a little bit of leadership.

You can't be a perfectly lubricated weathervane on the important issues of the day whether it's Libya, whether it's the debt ceiling, whether it's the discussion around the Kasich bill in Ohio, where Governor Romney has been missing in action in terms of showing any kind of leadership.

I do believe that the electorate this go around will be looking for clearly defined presidential leadership. I'm not sure that we're seeing it. We're putting out our own economic proposals, our foreign policy proposals. Next week I'll have an energy speech that I'll be giving in New Hampshire. We're calling for clear cut leadership positions for the United States to be taking that will get us back on our feet and secure the American century for the people of the United States.

BLITZER: So when you say he's a perfectly lubricated weather vane or when George Will says he is a recidivist reviser, we're talking about Mitt Romney. Basically you're both saying he's a flip-flopper on some of these most important issues?

HUNTSMAN: You don't get any more important than the issue of life. That is central to a lot of people's core beliefs and political philosophy. When you have an epiphany on something that central to one's world view, that is going to strike a lot of people as being highly political.

BLITZER: You're talking about abortion rights for women.

HUNTSMAN: That's right.

BLITZER: What is your exact position on abortion rights for women? Are there any exceptions from your standpoint for a woman getting an abortion?

HUNTSMAN: Incest, rape, and the life of the mother, are the exceptions that I can live with.

BLITZER: Let's move and talk about New Hampshire, because you are basically ignoring Iowa. You are throwing all your eggs into that New Hampshire basket. Our CNN/Time/ORC poll has Romney way ahead. He's almost living there. He has a second home there. He's at 40 percent, Cain, 13 percent, Paul, 12 percent. You're at 6 percent.

But Herman Cain, he's intriguing. He basically spent very little time in New Hampshire or Iowa for that matter. But he's doing pretty well in both of those states, even better in Iowa. And he comes up with these crazy ads, including this one. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can take this country back.

(SINGING) I am America, I one voice, united we stand.


BLITZER: That's his chief of staff who had a little puff of a cigarette there. But he's a 13 percent. You're at 6 percent in New Hampshire. You spent a lot of time there. He hasn't. Why is he doing so well?

HUNTSMAN: Well, oftentimes can you spike for the moment. You're the flavor of the week or the flavor of the month. I remember when Governor Perry was at 20 percent in New Hampshire. He came in with great fanfare. Now he's in the low single digits.

We're just trying a steady, gradual substantive rise in New Hampshire, based upon real support, based upon 80 events that we have done so far. Wolf, we did a telephone town hall meeting yesterday. We had 3,000 people on the line. Our town hall meetings are packed these days. So I say we've got a couple of very, very important months ahead in New Hampshire. And the vibe that I'm getting, the way in which we're connecting, with our message about rebuilding, or manufacturing muscle in this country, and getting people back to work, is resonating with the all-important people in the first primary state.

BLITZER: Would you feel comfortable if Herman Cain were the Republican presidential nominee?

HUNTSMAN: I think Herman Cain is an outstanding person. I've gotten to know him. He's a friend. He has a lot of the right prerequisites for understanding how the free market works. Beyond that, that's why the early primaries are so very, very important. Ultimately, the people get to decide. Whoever they decide is the nominee for my party, I will stand behind that.

BLITZER: So you would feel comfortable if Herman Cain on national security issues because he stumbled on many of the questions so far. You feel comfortable?

HUNTSMAN: Well, as I say, anyone who gets through this very rigorous primary process, I think our chances are excellent for getting through this primary process. I'm going to stand behind. They deserve it because it's not an easy process to endure. You've got to win over the will of the people. By the end of that process, you're pretty much up to speed on a lot of the issues that matter.

BLITZER: You have, among other things, a business background. The economy is still struggling, but 2.5 percent growth in the last quarter. The stock markets are doing well, above 12,000. It was 6,500, 7,000 when President Obama took office. Do you see a trend that a double dip recession now is unlikely and things are at least beginning to move in the right direction?

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, I think we're going to muddle along until such a time as we are smart enough to actually put forward some bold visionary proposals that attack the structural elements that are standing in the way of knocking the cover off the ball of our economic growth.

When I say that, I look at the jobs proposal package put forward by the president. And it amounts to half steps and half measures. It's going to be incomplete. It's going to be a temporary fix. We need a long-term fix. And that means tax reform. That means regulatory reform and really hitting on the issues that investor community is looking at being cleaned up, like health care reform, Obamacare and Dodd Frank.

And insuring that as we go forward, Wolf, we can begin to build manufacturing plants and power plants in this nation that will be able to fuel our manufacturing revival. It can be done. Until you get to the structural fixes, you're not going to have the confidence in the innovator class, in the entrepreneurial class, in the investor class. Indeed in the global -- in the global economy to be able to get this -- to be able to get this country moving in a direction that is long term sustainable.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But very quickly here. You're the former U.S. Ambassador to China. China played a very important role in the U.S. economy. They have a lot of U.S. debt. Most recently this week they played a significant role helping the Europeans bail out Greece and some of that enormous debt crisis there.

Our viewers in China are watching. We have a lot of viewers in China as you probably know having lived in Beijing. Say something to the people in China, in Mandarin right now. Then translate it for us. What you would say to them given this opportunity?

HUNTSMAN: (Speaking in Mandarin )

I basically said, that despite our challenges, the China/U.S. relationship is the most important relationship in the world today. It is incumbent upon the leadership in both countries in order to ensure the economic and security of not only our two countries, but the region and the world, as well. Having a president who can actually understand those issues and who knows intimately well our most significant economic challenge, and opportunity, as well as our most significant security challenge would be a great thing to have in the White House, Wolf.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for coming in. You're Mandarin is pretty good. I must say. Not that I understood what you said. It sounded pretty good.

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

BLITZER: Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, former ambassador to China and now wants to be the Republican presidential nominee. Thank you.


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