Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman said Democratic President Barack Obama is “absolutely” beatable, given the “economic backdrop,” and said he may decide this week to seek the Republican presidential nomination.
“We’ve got everything that any country would hope for in order to hit it out of the ballpark,” said Huntsman in a weekend interview with Peter Cook on Bloomberg Television’s “Bottom Line” in Manchester, New Hampshire. “We just don’t have a plan, we don’t have vision, we don’t have the right leadership to get us there.”
Huntsman, 51, is seeking to capitalize on his business, government and foreign-policy credentials to position himself as a credible alternative to Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who formally entered the race last week. With a Republican debate set for today in New Hampshire, Huntsman is drawing closer to declaring.
“We’re moving in that direction,” he said in the interview, airing today. “We’ve got about all the boxes checked.”
In an interview aired yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Huntsman told host Candy Crowley that he is “about a week and a half out” from making a final decision.
New Hampshire Debate
The Republican debate will pit Romney against former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Representative Ron Paul of Texas, former pizza company executive Herman Cain, and former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
Notable by their absence will be Huntsman and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who has been on a road trip in a red, white and blue bus this month that ended in New Hampshire. Palin has yet to formally announce.
The debate will take place as the economy has slowed, with job growth at its weakest in May in eight months, and gridlock in Congress, where Republicans and Democrats are struggling to reach a debt-reduction deal before an Aug. 2 deadline that risks sending the government into default.
“I don’t think you grow your way to prosperity through tax increases,” said Huntsman, when asked if Republicans should consider tax increases as part of a solution to the stalemate. “You’ve got to create a framework and environment through tax reform, through regulatory reform” to create businesses and boost job growth, he said.
Huntsman said his experience as ambassador to China under Obama until earlier this year was “very important,” and that his experience as an executive at his family run company had provided him with “knowledge of the private sector.”
“To have somebody who understands foreign policy and national security policy, who’s dealt intimately with our largest trading partner in the years to come and our most significant emerging strategic challenges, I think is going to be very important,” Huntsman said.
He made time for the Bloomberg interview on a day that included two house parties, a talk at the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a visit to a Harley-Davidson Inc. dealership in Manchester, as well as a stop at a restaurant in Concord.
To reinforce his business credentials, Huntsman points to his record in Utah, where he moved the state from a progressive income tax with a top rate of 7 percent to a flat 5 percent tax. In meetings with business leaders, he also highlights his experience as an executive with Huntsman Corp., his family’s plastics and chemical company in Salt Lake City.
In the CNN interview, Huntsman said the Obama administration has failed in terms of economic policy.
“There are no signs of success, very little,” he said. “You look at unemployment, you look at the environment in which jobs supposedly can be created, when you look at the debt level and you look at all the economic indicators, it would suggest that we’re in bad shape.”
Huntsman said in the Bloomberg Television interview that he supports a plan by Representative Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, to overhaul Medicare to contain rising health-care costs.
“It’s realistic,” Huntsman said of the plan, which critics have said would privatize the service. “What he put forward on Medicare is a good start.”
In contrast to Pawlenty and Bachmann, who appeal to Tea Party supporters, Huntsman is zeroing in on the party’s traditional, pro-business wing. Instead of focusing on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, he talks about chipping away at corporate income taxes, scaling back government regulation and boosting trade.
As Paul slams the Federal Reserve, Huntsman credits the central bank with playing a key role in the nation’s recovery from the 2008 financial crisis. And while the rest of the Republican field talks of China as a threat, Huntsman, who speaks Mandarin fluently, stresses its market potential.
“We need more shared values” with China, he said. “That’s the glue that allows any meaningful bilateral relationship to last.”