Republican presidential contender Jon Huntsman Jr. said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that rival Mitt Romney would be a “status quo president” with respect to Wall Street and Washington influence peddling. Former Utah Governor Huntsman also said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who also was a private equity manager, should release his tax returns.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with Governor Jon Huntsman, presidential candidate. Governor, we’re here in the home of the Eastern League champion New Hampshire Fisher Cats. This could bring good luck to you.
Let me ask you, when I interviewed you a couple months ago, you said you were going to win the New Hampshire primary. You seem to have lowered your sights.
JON HUNTSMAN: It’s hard to know what we’re going to find when we wake up on Wednesday. I do know this for sure: We’re going to exceed market expectations. We’re going to have a great performance on -on Tuesday.
That’s because this is a state that doesn’t like to be told for whom to vote. They like candidates to do it the old- fashioned way. That’s time on the ground. That’s heart and soul. That’s handshake by handshake. And that’s a message that resonates.
HUNT: Well, you have done that, certainly. You got the endorsement of the Boston Globe the other day and a number of New Hampshire newspapers. You’ve talked about, you know, finishing in the top three. Governor Romney, you, who’s the third?
HUNTSMAN: Hard to know. I don’t even want to speculate, because people tend to coalesce around candidates the last 24, 48 hours, and it changes the world.
HUNT: Let’s talk about Governor Romney. You have called him a chameleon. You say he changes his positions on political expediency grounds. Newt Gingrich said he sometimes lies. Do you think he lies?
HUNTSMAN: I don’t - I don’t want to go that far. But I will tell you that this is going to be an election based on trust. And if you’ve gone from a liberal running for the Senate to a moderate running for governor to a conservative running for president, that leaves an impression in the minds of the voters that doesn’t build an image of trust, where this country is running on empty as it relates to trust towards our institutions of power and trust toward our elected officials.
HUNTSMAN: It’s hard to know. He’s a smart man. You’ve got to be - I believe in being realistic and honest with the American people on these issues. I don’t pander. It’s easy to get out there and say, “We’re going to slap tariffs on China on day one.” But the reality is that it’s nonsense.
And whether it was the butchers of Beijing by Bill Clinton in 1992 or Ronald Reagan’s discussion in 1980 about pulling our diplomatic relations from Beijing and re-recognizing Taipei, you get in office, you find the world is a different place. And I think most of the candidates today are smart enough to realize the sensitive nature - moreover, the importance of this relationship longer term, and not to pander.
HUNT: You sound like you think that Governor Romney really doesn’t believe what he’s saying about China.
HUNTSMAN: Well, I don’t believe in pandering and contorting myself into a pretzel. And I don’t think those who do, who find themselves on three sides of different issues, are going to generate the kind of trust that is so needed among the electorate, again, the candidates going into the final stretch.
HUNT: An important calling card that he brings is his experience at Bain Capital. Private equity, he says, creates jobs and a lot of capital. You were a businessman, too. What - what would his Bain Capital background bring to the presidency and running the economy?
HUNTSMAN: I’m not sure people are going to look too much at that. I think they’re going to look at his governance over a state and what he had to show for that, as they have mine.
We took our state to number one in job creation. We were the most propitious, business-friendly state in America, according to Forbes and Fortune and a whole host of magazines. We reformed education, health care, a whole lot of things. He was number 47, in terms of job creation.
HUNT: That’s more important than his Bain background, you think?
HUNTSMAN: I think people are going to say, you ran a state. What do you have to show for your time as governing that state? And if you’ve got dead last, practically, in terms of job creation, that’s going to stand out a lot more prominently in people’s minds, I believe, than anything you did in the private sector.
HUNT: The governor has refused to release his tax returns. Why do you think? And should he?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I think we ought to be transparent. Again, it gets back to trust. If the citizens and the voters of New Hampshire and beyond are going to trust us and our message and how we’re going to lead this country, transparency needs to be part of that. And I do believe that trust is going to be central to the whole discussion around 2012. And disclosures like taxes, I think, are an important part of that.
HUNT: So in order to have trust, you have to be transparent. In order to be transparent, you have to release your tax returns?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I think that’s part of it, yeah.
HUNT: Another one of your competitors, Rick Santorum, on Thursday, he addressed a college group, and he was asked about gay marriage. And he said, well, if you think it’s all right with two men, why not three men? What do you think of an answer like that?
HUNTSMAN: I think we ought to base it a little bit on fairness and dignity. I’m not sure that’s a discussion that is - is a good one for where we are in America right now.
I believe in civil unions. I think there’s such thing as equality under the law. I think there’s such thing as fairness, as we relate one with another in America. I think discussions like that tend to divide. We don’t need more division in this country. We need to begin coming together as people and finding solutions.
HUNT: Do you think the Republican Party is in danger of being seen as the gay-bashing party?
HUNTSMAN: If we are, then that’s a problem longer term. If you run from mainstream science, if you believe in dividing people along certain lines, I think that’s problematic longer term.
HUNT: You are the only candidate - that’s not quite true, Ron Paul to some extent - who has addressed the big Wall Street issues, too big to fail. You know, talk about that for a minute, but also tell me, why haven’t the others? I mean, is - do you think Mitt Romney doesn’t do that because he’s a captive of Wall Street? Or why?
HUNTSMAN: I think it becomes very difficult when you’ve taken tens of millions of dollars from the banking community, from Wall Street, and for many, many years, to have a discussion that fundamentally alters their course, their direction in life. And it can only be done, I would argue, by someone who isn’t a captive, a subsidiary of Wall Street, because we’re setting ourselves up, Al, for another bailout if we don’t right-size the banks.
We’ve got six institutions that, combined, have assets worth two-thirds of our nation’s GDP, $9.5 trillion. If they get infected by the flu that’s making the rounds in Europe, they have to be bailed out, because if they fail, we all go down. And that’s not right for the taxpayers to have this implied guarantee, this implied bailout. If they screw up, they’re going to be - they’re going to be propped up.
We’ve been there. We’ve done that, Al, and we’re not going to do it again. And we need a president who’s going to say no to two-thirds equivalent of our GDP. Let’s go back to the ‘90s, where you were 20 percent equivalent.
HUNT: You sound like you don’t believe that Governor Romney would be an agent of change when it comes to Wall Street.
HUNTSMAN: I think he would be a status quo president, not only with respect to Wall Street, but with respect to Washington. And that is draining the swamp on lobbying. That is calling and leading the charge for term limits for Congress, closing the revolving door for members of Congress filing out and becoming lobbyists. These are huge problems.
HUNTSMAN: I term-limited myself. Here’s the alternative, Al. The alternative is we have this institution called incumbency that reaches up, grabs people, and grows very deep roots, and pretty soon nobody wants to leave. And you look at the generation coming up, the younger voters. Why aren’t they turning out to vote and participate anymore? Because they think the system is rigged. They think their vote doesn’t count anymore. They can vote, but the incumbents always end up winning.
And I say, crony capitalism on Capitol Hill, diminished trust, 8 percent approval, in the minds of the people, this is ridiculous. I mean, we’ve got to have an agent of change not only for Wall Street, but one for Washington, as well.
HUNT: Governor Huntsman, the best of luck next Tuesday.
HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Al.
HUNT: Thank you for being with us.
HUNTSMAN: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
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