Former Republican candidate Jon Huntsman took a battle axe to his own party, comparing it to China’s Communist Party and criticizing its standard bearer in a wide-ranging interview at the 92nd Street Y Sunday night.
Recounting his first experience on the presidential debate stage in Iowa last August, Huntsman says he was struck by the question “Is this the best we could do?”
Huntsman, the former Utah governor and once President Barack Obama’s Ambassador to China, expressed disappointment that the Republican Party disinvited him from a Florida fundraiser in March after he publicly called for a third party.
“This is what they do in China on party matters, they punish you, if you talk off script,” he said.
Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: “if you can only do certain things over again in life.”
“What went through my head was if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes…then I’m going to have to do a lot of explaining,” he explained. “What was going through my mind was ‘don’t I just want to get through this?’”
That decision, Huntsman said, “has caused me a lot of heartburn.”
Huntsman jokingly blamed his failed candidacy in part on his wife, Mary Kaye, who told him she’d leave him if he abandoned his principles.
“She said if you pandered, if you sign any of those damn pledges, I’ll leave you,” Huntsman recounted.
“So I had to say I believe in science — and people on stage look at you quizzically as though you’re was an oddball,” Huntsman said, explaining why he was “toast” in Iowa.
Asked by journalist Jeff Greenfield if he could win the nomination of the Republican Party in Utah today, Huntsman said he could not, saying later that Ronald Reagan would “likely not” be able to win the GOP nomination nationally in this political climate.
On foreign policy, Huntsman questioned his former Republican opponents’ hard-line positions on China. “I don’t know what world these people are living in,” he said, not naming Mitt Romney by name.
Though he categorically ruled out being Romney’s running mate, Huntsman stood by his tepid endorsement of Romney, saying he would manage legislation through Congress more effectively.
But Huntsman said Romney has to campaign on more than fear, and provide a positive alternative to Obama.
“He’ll have to work hard on making sure that happens,” he said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article omitted the phrase “they punish you” from Huntsman’s quote.