An Interview With Jon Huntsman

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 9, 2011

I got the chance to talk to Governor Jon Huntsman today, thanks to the work and help of Chequer-Board friend James Richardson, who works on the Governor’s campaign. Unfortunately, there was no way to digitally record the call, so I am reconstructing it from memory. Hopefully, I will do the conversation justice.

I started by asking the Governor about his standing in the polls, and about how he expected to break out of the pack. He responded by pointing out that in New Hampshire, the voters would probably wait a little while before firming up their decisions, and that he expected to he doing better in the polls the closer we come to the date of the New Hampshire primary. The Governor pointed out that he and his campaign were making very good connections on the ground in the state, and that he believed that voters would he receptive to his message of lower taxes, a commitment to reducing the deficit, and getting people back to work.

I asked the Governor why he wasn’t competing in Iowa, and he mentioned that limited resources made it necessary for his campaign to be selective in picking its battles. As the Governor went on to point out, he did not have a geographical connection to the state, and did not support ethanol subsidies, so his campaign decided to forgo a fight in Iowa.

Turning back to New Hampshire, I reminded Governor Huntsman that Governor John Sununu, the former Governor of that state, had announced that he is backing Mitt Romney, and openly questioned Governor Huntsman’s conservative credentials in the process. Governor Huntsman responded by delineating what he believes to he the differences between himself and Governor Romney, mentioning his consistent support for life, for the Second Amendment, and for free market economic policies. He pointed out that he achieved high vote totals in running for Governor in Utah (a conservative state, to be sure), and stated that Mitt Romney could he found on multiple sides of am issue. I reminded the Governor that he offered to meet with Governor Sununu to see if he could change the latter’s mind about Governor Huntsman’s conservative credentials, and the Governor responded by stating that Governor Sununu had not taken up Governor Huntsman’s offer, and that he wasn’t expected to now that Governor Sununu was on the Romney team. Governor Huntsman dismissed the statements made by Governor Sununu as political, and expressed his confidence that he would do well in New Hampshire, and that the results would give him momentum in contests down the road.

I asked Governor Huntsman to offer any commentary that he might have regarding the allegations against Herman Cain. The Governor declined to address the issue directly, stating that only Cain could talk about it, and that having met Cain, he considered him a fine and upstanding gentleman. However, the Governor was entirely willing to address Cain supporters to tell them why they should support his campaign, mentioning his record of job creation, and fiscal conservatism in Utah, and mentioning his economic plan, which won high praise from the Wall Street Journal. The Governor made clear that when it came to fiscal and economic issues, he believed that he could compete for Cain voters.

Talking about jobs, and the crisis of unemployment, the Governor mentioned the need to embark upon an aggressive program of job creation. He stated his belief that we are too hopeful a country to allow the problem of unemployment to fester, and to divert us from our national dreams and ambitions. In discussing how the jobs crisis may have helped inspire the Occupy movement, the Governor remarked that while he certainly did not agree with the anti-capitalist sentiments of the movement, he did appreciate and could sympathize with some of the broader economic concerns which have created a crisis of confidence in general throughout the country, and said that it was important to address that crisis of confidence with economic policies that brought back a sense of hope and optimism. I mentioned to the Governor that polarization regarding economic issues is responsible for the creation of two activist camps on either side of the political spectrum–the Tea Party on one side, and the Occupy movement on the other–and that there was also a division between those who believe that we ought to focus on the deficit and debt, and those who believe that we ought to spend more to create economic demand, and focus on job creation instead of fiscal issues. Governor Huntsman responded by saying that he believed that both deficit reduction and job creation ought to be focused on, and that when the debt gets to a high percentage of GDP–as it has in the United States, and as it especially has in Greece and Italy–countries find themselves robbed of their futures. In the Governor’s opinion, fiscal issues directly impact the broader economy, and he sees the resolution of our fiscal problems as being part and parcel of an effort to address the broader economy.

I was glad that the Governor brought up the issue of the Eurozone crisis, because it gave me the chance to ask whether a Huntsman Administration would be willing to backstop European banks to prevent defaults in Greece and Italy from spreading throughout Europe, and potentially affecting the United States. The Governor responded by stating that the United States could not bail out European banks, and that the Eurozone situation was one that only Europeans could solve via effective austerity measures. He mentioned that the “too big to fail” problem for banks still existed, and still had to be dealt with.

Turning to the issue of Iraq, I referenced the Obama Administration’s decision to withdraw American troops from the country by the end of the year, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated in 2008 by the Bush Administration. It is, of course, well known that the Administration wanted to extend the stay of American military forces, but that an inability to negotiate immunity for American troops led to the Administration’s decision to withdraw completely. Governor Huntsman said that he believed that a new Status of Forces Agreement could and should have been negotiated, and that he was concerned that a total removal of American troops would lead to increased influence for Iran and Syria in Iraq. He maintains that a force of 10,000-15,000 could have been kept in Iraq so that security could continue to be provided in Iraq, and so that further support could be given for Iraqi security forces. I mentioned reports that President Obama and Vice President Biden failed to contact their counterparts in the Iraqi government to break the impasse over immunity for American troops, and the Governor responded by stating that the absence of leadership on the part of the Obama Administration regarding this matter was typical, and that without leadership from the top, problems would not be addressed and progress would not be made on the issues of the day.

The conversation about Iraq neatly segued to a conversation about Afghanistan, and I asked the Governor about his desire to withdraw troops from the country. He said that like Iraq, he would want to keep 10,000-15,000 troops there for special forces/intelligence work, and said that the troops could also serve to assist the Afghan security forces, but stressed twice that we should not be involved in nation-building. When asked whether he favored negotiations with the Taliban, the Governor responded negatively, stating that the Taliban’s actions and posture did not qualify it to be considered a negotiating partner by the United States, and that it had to renounce violence before being taken seriously. Governor Huntsman also stated that he thought a core of 10,000-15,000 American troops remaining in the region would serve as a sufficiently effective deterrent against Taliban hostilities, and a sufficiently effective inducement for the Taliban to change its behavior.

The Governor was affable and well-informed in his conversation, and while I disagree with some of his stances–especially the belief that we can afford to leave only 10,000-15,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq–I appreciate the efforts he undertook to make his arguments in as detailed a fashion as possible. Again, my thanks to Governor Huntsman and his staff for making this interview possible, and should other Presidential candidates be interested in talking to me, all they have to do is let me know.

  • snicker-snack

    John who?

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