Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, a former Utah governor and ambassador to China, suggested in a Bloomberg Television interview with Al Hunt that Mitt Romney is a phony who is “pandering” to their party’s primary voters.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: I am with former Utah governor and former ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman. Thank you so much for being with us, Mr. Ambassador.
JON HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Al. It’s an honor.
HUNT: Let’s start with the health-care bill. If the Supreme Court throws that out, what are the implications for Barack Obama and for Mitt Romney?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I think the one that is widely despised about health-care reform - about Obamacare, the mandate, which of course the circuit court has already said is likely unconstitutional. Now we’re going to hear more about it. That’s -
HUNT: Well, one has. A couple others have not.
HUNTSMAN: But I do think that that will be the end of Obamacare. That’ll be probably the end of Massachusetts care, Romneycare. And then we have to get to the bottom line of health-care reform. And that is how do you get to the point in this discussion where we can start taking cost out of the system? That should drive our discussions on health-care reform. I like what I did as governor of the state of Utah. It took us three years, but we broke it down into pieces.
HUNT: And you think the court will throw it out?
HUNTSMAN: I do.
HUNT: You do?
HUNTSMAN: I do.
HUNT: Let me ask you about taxes, because that’s been a signature issue for you. You have touted your tax plan, touted the fact that The Wall Street Journal touts your tax plan, but we ran some numbers. And the one thing it does for - for somebody making a million dollars - these have to be averages - they get about a $104,000 tax cut. Working poor making $30,000, because you end the earned income tax credit, would get a $2,600 increase. How is that fair?
HUNTSMAN: Well, rates come down and it is based on the premise that this country needs to grow. And I say it’s about competitiveness, recognizing the environment in which we live. Singapore has reformed their taxes. They’re at zero capital gains. Hong Kong has done the same. We’ve been flat-footed since 1986. And I’d say either you do a tax reform effort patterned after Simpson-Bowles, a bipartisan approach that I took it from, and have it done in a big, bold way that speaks to growth and competitiveness, or you do half measures and half steps.
HUNT: But that $30,000 working-poor stiff is getting a $2,600 tax increase?
HUNTSMAN: I went through the same thing negotiating a flat tax for our state. It took us two years. We worked out a lot of the differences. For the most part we were able to deliver something in final form that was close to what I had hoped to get, which was - was a flat tax. Broaden the base, lower the rate and simplify. This is a negotiation at the end of the day, and I - I don’t doubt the difficulty in negotiating something, you know, that will get to the end point ultimately, but you got to start with a proposal that will stand the test of scrutiny in Congress. And I believe mine can.
HUNT: Let’s go to China, where you were the former ambassador. You and Governor Romney had at it a little bit in that debate last Saturday where you - you at one point said that you really can’t take currency to WTO. I think you really can, according to our experts, but is the real problem - is your fear is that we might lose it if we were to take it to the WTO?
HUNTSMAN: Well, there’s no provision there for it. And so you take it to the WTO. They’re going to bring a countersuit and you’re wasting a whole lot of time on an issue that is getting no traction. Meanwhile, you slap a tariff that Governor Romney is proposing. They will then say, “Whoa. Your quantitative easing programs in the United States have done the same thing to the dollar. We’re going to slap a counter-tariff on you,” and you got a trade war.
I saw the same thing with the Tires 421 case about three years ago. They hit a counter-tariff on poultry and, you know, it - it really hit us both. And it was a reminder that this is where the relationship is these days. And we are - it’s unavoidable. You sit down. You negotiate your way through these issues. It’s tough. It’s a grind, but you also have to realize that it’s a multi-faceted relationship.
HUNT: Do you think Governor Romney’s pandering on this issue?
HUNTSMAN: I think it’s a total, total pandering on the part of Governor Romney. You can get an applause line by saying that you’re going to go to war with China, that you’re going to slap a tariff, without remembering that you’ve got North Korea. You’ve got work on Iran sanctions. You’ve got Pakistan. You’ve got global economic rebalancing. You’ve got South China Sea. You’ve got a host of issues that are all part of the U.S.-China relationship. And a trade war would grind it all to a halt, all the while killing small business and exporters in this country, and I don’t want that done.
HUNT: Let me turn to Afghanistan where you and Ron Paul are really the outliers. You are for winding down as quickly as possible the U.S. involvement there, but you said the other night that we have - we have stayed the course there. We’ve uprooted the Taliban. Every report we get there is contrary to that. The Economist, for instance, noted last week that the Taliban is actually resurgent, that they’re more lethal than ever. Aren’t we leaving with a stronger, not weaker, Taliban?
HUNTSMAN: We’ve uprooted al-Qaeda. They’re in sanctuaries in Waziristan, and beyond in subsidiaries elsewhere. We ran the Taliban from the power is the point that I made. So what have we done that is noteworthy for the American people? We’ve run the Taliban from power. We’ve uprooted and dismantled al-Qaeda. They’re still around, but they’re no longer where they were. We’ve had free elections, 2004. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden. I say this is time to stand up and tell the American people that our efforts there over 10 years have been worthwhile.
HUNT: And we can declare victory?
HUNTSMAN: Well, we can declare those four things having been achieved, which is a whole lot better than where we were before, with a force on the ground that will focus on tactical intelligence gathering, special forces response, and an ongoing training effort with the Afghan national army. That’ll continue, but I think we need to recognize it’s a counter-terror effort that we’re up against. It isn’t a counterinsurgency. That - we shouldn’t be nation building in Afghanistan when this nation so desperately needs building.
HUNT: Let me ask you a final political question. The super PAC supporting you, not done by you, but they support you so you’re not involved, they’re running ads in New Hampshire starting today in which they say voters should not support “some phony who tells me one thing and you another.” Do you think they were referring to Governor Romney?
HUNTSMAN: I haven’t seen the ad, but it sure sounds like him.
HUNT: It does? You think that’s what Governor Romney’s doing? He is being a phony and telling people one thing and another -
HUNTSMAN: Well, when you’ve been on both sides of all the key issues of the day, then that gets to the heart and soul of whether you’ve got believability. And when the 2012 election cycle, to my mind, is going to be about enhancing and promoting trust in the political system, I don’t think you’re electable under those conditions.
HUNT: Think you can New Hampshire? Do you think you will win New Hampshire?
HUNTSMAN: I know I can win New Hampshire.
HUNT: Strike it back. Will you win New Hampshire?
HUNTSMAN: We will win New Hampshire. They want to know your heart and soul. We’re going to have event number 100 tomorrow, Al, 100 town-hall meetings, house parties, VFW club visits, 100. Nobody’s worked that market like we have. They pay - they reward those people who put in the Adlai Stevenson shoe leather, which is what we’re doing.
HUNT: And they all get to see your daughters, as a bonus. Governor Huntsman, thank you so much for being with us.
HUNTSMAN: Great to see you.
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