TRANSCRIPT: JON HUNTSMAN ON “ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS”
ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Now to New Hampshire, one of the early states. Of course, Jon Huntsman is boycotting tonight’s Nevada debate to protest against Nevada’s attempt to challenge New Hampshire’s “First in the Nation’s” status. Huntsman is putting all of his chips on New Hampshire, where he is today and joins us live.
Welcome, governor, thanks so much for joining us.
FORMER AMBASSADOR TO CHINA JON HUNTSMAN JR., REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Andrea, we are here in New Hampshire. I’m not selling books, I’m not looking for a radio program, I’m just looking to save America, a country I love.
MITCHELL: Well, you’re looking to save America, but is there any proof that any nominee has ever won with a one-state strategy? You’re not going to Iowa, you’re not going to any of the other states, and even though you’re in New Hampshire, putting all your money in New Hampshire, you’re dead last in Marist — the NBC/Marist poll in New Hampshire. So are you going to make this happen?
HUNTSMAN: Well, listen, we — our numbers in New Hampshire have moved up from zero. I came in as a margin of error candidate. We have done 80 individual events in this state, we’re going to do 80 more.
And I can’t call myself the margin of error candidate anymore. I mean, in a recent poll, we were at 10 percent. All the recent polls have had us moving up. That’s the kind of movement I like, but what the people here in New Hampshire want is a serious conversation about a candidate’s vision for America, the specifics. What are you going to do, and then are you going to stay behind so we can ask you a hundred questions so we can get to know your heart and soul as a candidate.
That’s what makes New Hampshire such a special place in our election process, and that’s why so many people are rightly outraged about the politics that are playing out in Nevada as they try to leapfrog New Hampshire in the schedule, thereby lessening the impact that this great state has toward — toward enhancing the understanding that our citizens have about the candidates and what it is they stand for.
MITCHELL: Well, a number of the other candidates are not going to compete in Nevada, but they are going to the debate. Wouldn’t you have been better off at least having the exposure of appearing on that stage, making the point with your other fellow Republicans to try to again move up in the polls?
HUNTSMAN: Let me tell you what the people of New Hampshire would expect to us do. They would expect us to be right here in this state, having a town hall meeting that will be packed tonight with people who want to hear a vision. They don’t want to hear sound bites, they want a candidate’s vision and then they want a conversation with the candidate.
So we’ve had many conversations already over the last couple of days about why we are boycotting Nevada, and I say you don’t just pay lip service to a boycott, you make it real. And if you’re going to boycott the caucus, which we have already said and some candidates have signed on, I say we’re going to make — we’re going to make it real by not attending the debate which will be full of the predictable sound bites.
We’re going to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of New Hampshire. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure they don’t lose that first in the nation primary status, which is the window through which everyone in America can better understand candidates increasingly in an era, in a period of artificiality where elections are bought, where’s there’s a whole lot more artifice infused elections.
You can’t get by with that in New Hampshire. This is all about your vision, it’s all about getting to know the candidates, and about the rest of America being able to better understand the process and who the players are through the prism of New Hampshire, particularly during such an important moment as we face today with an economy that has hit the wall, with an uncertain position internationally. These are critically important issues that need to be discussed, and this is where it starts.
MITCHELL: Governor, with all due respect, how will you get message across? Your third quarter filing showed that at least up to now only $1,000 has been contributed by New Hampshire voters to you — $1,000. That’s kind of embarrassing, and that you’re $3 million in debt overall.
HUNTSMAN: Well, those numbers are slightly wrong.
MITCHELL: Well, those are the numbers with the FEC. That’s where we get them from.
HUNTSMAN: The debt number there is a little bit off.
But in any event, we have gone up 250 percent in fundraising since we went from nothing to 10 percent in a recent poll here in New Hampshire.
So how are you going to win New Hampshire? You win it by doing it exactly what we’re doing, you keep at it. There are town hall meetings or house parties, it’s shaking hands with the citizens and it’s sharing your vision for a better tomorrow, which starts first and foremost with how you’re going to create jobs.
I mean, here in this state you feel the effects of joblessness when you sit down with the mayor of — or the sheriff of Hillsboro who wants to talk about how his deputies are handing out foreclosure notices to the middle class for the first time ever. This is a human tragedy that is playing out and it deserves a serious conversation. Not an artificial conversation, but a serious conversation with the citizens and that start here’s in New Hampshire.
I like where we’re headed. I can feel the connection in every single town hall meeting that we have. When we started, Andrea, they were all house parties, you had kind of a trickle of people coming in. Now they’re town hall meetings and they’re all packed. They’re people who have heard about us because of the buzz in the marketplace and they’re people who once they hear our message are signing on. I like our chances here in New Hampshire.
MITCHELL: One of the things you tried is give a major foreign policy address last week. I wanted to just review some of the bullet points.
You said President Obama’s policies have weakened America, we’ve lost leverage in the international community. It is, quote, “cultural arrogance to think we can make tribal leaders into democratic leaders.”
You gave a very serious foreign policy critique of the president’s foreign policy. So the question occurs, why didn’t you quit sooner as his ambassador to China?
HUNTSMAN: I love my country, Andrea. When I’m asked to serve, particularly during a time of war and during a time of economic hardship in a very specific and serious relationship — there is no relationship more important than the U.S./China relationship — I’m the kind of person who is going to stand up and in a bipartisan fashion do my best for my country. That’s a philosophy that I’ll take to my grave and I would do it again tomorrow.
But that doesn’t mean you resign yourself from your political party affiliation, and that doesn’t mean you resign yourself and your ability to participate in the great debates of the time.
This is the most important election cycle of my lifetime. And I’ve got to say, you have a choice after you serve your two years, which was our initial commitment, you either stand on the sidelines and watch it all play out or given your experience as a twice-elected governor, someone who has lived overseas four different times, three times as a U.S. ambassador, you choose to get in the arena as Teddy Roosevelt talked about.
MITCHELL: With all your experience, you have been twice-elected governor, you’ve been the ambassador, you’ve had experience before that in the Bush administration, so the question is, is Herman Cain who is the front-runner right now, is he qualified to be commander in chief? Do you think it’s 9-9-9 plan qualifies him to lead us out of an economic mess?
HUNTSMAN: We don’t know yet who the next commander in chief will be, but I’m here to tell you it will be based on real experience and somebody with a message. 9-9-9 is a good slogan, but as “The Wall Street Journal” pointed out recently, it does not add up.
But beyond that, it’s a nonstarter when it hits Capitol Hill. Unlike the economic plan that we have put forward, which was endorsed by “The Wall Street Journal,” which was taken out of the Simpson-Bowles work that had been done in a bipartisan fashion, it can pass muster on Capitol Hill, it can reduce our rates. It can broaden the base and simplify our tax code in ways that desperately needs to happen to make this a more competitive anything.
MITCHELL: If it’s not Herman Cain, many feel it will eventually be Mitt Romney, potentially, as the other leading candidate. Is he a liberal? Is he a conservative? What is Mitt Romney, as far as you’re concerned?
HUNTSMAN: These are early days, Andrea, and that’s why I get back to New Hampshire being such an important primary. Because you have citizens —
MITCHELL: What is Mitt Romney to the people of New Hampshire? Is he a liberal? Is he a conservative?
HUNTSMAN: You’ll you have to ask whoever tracks him at that particular point.
MITCHELL: Well, as his opponent what would you say he is?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I’ve seen three different Mitt Romneys. I’ve seen a liberal Mitt Romney, I’ve seen a moderate Mitt Romney, and I’ve seen a conservative Mitt Romney. And I think the people here in New Hampshire who have watched that played out, as other have, are a bit confused.
But that, again, Andrea, is why the primary process here in New Hampshire is so important, because you can’t escape the reality of citizens coming after you wanting answers to their questions and wanting to know what’s in your head. And if you’re always coming up with a different answer or avoiding the important issues of the day, you don’t pass muster with the people of New Hampshire.
There’s no artificiality about it whatsoever.
So I say, I’m here standing with the people of New Hampshire, working with them to help protect the first primary in the nation status. And as that is thrown into jeopardy with the political shenanigans that are playing out in Nevada, that’s not good for the people of New Hampshire nor is it good for the people of this great country.
MITCHELL: Jon Huntsman, a pleasure. Thank you so much for joining us today —
HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Andrea.
MITCHELL: — from New Hampshire, and not Nevada.