Jon Huntsman — former governor of Utah, former ambassador to China — may run for the Republican presidential nomination. I spoke to him earlier today.
I started our conversation by asking how close he was to making a decision. “We have basically decided as a family that we are very comfortable moving forward,” he replied, adding that there will be “a formal announcement, which we expect to take place at the end of the month.” I said that sounded like a “when,” not an “if”; he responded, “when.” A spokesman called a few minutes after the interview to clarify that while all signs point to a run, no final decision has been made.
Although he believes his own diplomatic experience would be “a real asset” in the presidency, Huntsman does not expect foreign policy to play a large role in the race: “I’m guessing most people will see a need to do a little nation-building here at home.” Asked about Iran’s nuclear program, Huntsman suggested that he would support Israeli action against it: “You can either choose to support Israel, because I suspect they will want to deal directly with it, or you let the region become a proliferation challenge.”
Huntsman said that “we have to be very, very careful about aid money going into Pakistan,” adding, “it’s a very, very difficult problem, and one where you could imagine someone like a Musharraf-type leader emerging once again.” He says that Pakistan has been most stable under strongman rule.
Asked about the defense budget, he said, “It’s not just as simple as saying there are areas where we can cut, although if you look at a $650 billion budget, clearly there are some areas where we can make savings.” The key to making these savings: “There’s really no competition any more. Procurement and sourcing reforms are going to be absolutely key moving forward.”
In early 2009, Huntsman told the Washington Times, “I don’t even know the congressional leadership” and “I don’t listen or read whatever it is they say because it is inconsequential — completely.” Asked how Boehner and Cantor are doing now, Huntsman said he didn’t “have any real feel for that” but praised them for “backstopping things like the Ryan plan.” The reason for the contrast in the tone of his remarks, he said, was that “we’re in a much different set of circumstances.”
Huntsman reiterated that he is not likely to run in the Iowa caucuses because of his opposition to ethanol subsidies. That position makes it hard to compete there, he says, unless “you are a next-door neighbor and you’ve developed political ties there.” That’s a reference to former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who is running hard in Iowa but opposes ethanol subsidies.
In another contrast with Pawlenty, Huntsman does not believe the government should set a growth target. “The market will do that. . . . What a government should do is create the environment for growth,” he said. Like most Republicans, he opposes the Fed’s quantitative easing: “We don’t need any more money pumped into the economy, we don’t need any more bailouts.”
While many politicians and pundits have argued that America should pressure China into revaluing its currency, Huntsman believes the problem will solve itself. “The currency is going to move because they’re motivated by their own economic interests,” he said. “They will move to something closer to a market evaluation . . . over the next year and a half or two years. And the question will be are we ready as a country to take advantage of the new opportunities this situation will present.”
His closing thought: “I think the 2012 election cycle is really going to be a discussion about whether or not we are ready to see the end of the American century. . . . We’re going to have to be willing to look at some pretty dramatic measures including entitlements, including defense” — and “energy independence and tax reform.”
“All of this can be done; it requires the will of the people. So 2012 will be the most important election of my lifetime,” he says. On this point, his rivals for the nomination are likely in agreement with Huntsman.
— Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor of NR.