OTR Interviews

For Huntsman, All Eyes Are on New Hampshire: 'I'm Not Interested in Talking About Vaccinations, the Latest Spin on a Book'

GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman on the state of the White House race, his plan for America and more


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," September 28, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Now to Governor Jon Huntsman, who definitely does want to be your next president. Tonight, he seems to have a new political strategy, New Hampshire or bust. Governor Huntsman joins us. Good evening, sir.

JON HUNTSMAN, GOP PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, Greta. How are you doing? It's a pleasure to be with you.

VAN SUSTEREN: Glad to have you back, sir. So am I right in saying that the strategy at least appears to be from the outside that you are now focusing full speed ahead in New Hampshire? I've seen your numbers have gone up in New Hampshire. Is that the strategy is sort of forget Iowa a little bit, but focus on New Hampshire?

HUNTSMAN: New Hampshire has always been the strategy. It's the first primary state in the presidential contest. This is a state where they have seen it all. They have heard it all. You've got to get in there. You've got to make the pitch. You've got to sell yourself. They want a person of substance, leadership and vision, who inspires. And if you don't have it, they show you the door.

And if you do, you can do as we've done over the last several weeks. You can go from zero, the margin of error candidate, as I like to call ourselves -- I can't call us that anymore -- to knocking on the door of second place now in New Hampshire. That's with nothing on the air, Greta. That's just good old Adlai Stevenson shoe leather politicking, in town hall meetings and house parties and VFW halls.

When we start combining this aggressive approach to campaigning on the ground to a little bit of air cover, you're going to see us move not just from 10 or 12, but you know, upwards in ways that I think is going to suggest that we've got some momentum that people are going pay a lot of attention to.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor Romney I think is your biggest threat in New Hampshire. He's leading in New Hampshire. He's from next door. He's from Massachusetts. It has some of his attention diverted because he's looking at Iowa a little bit more, and Florida more, but he's also involved in a bit of a slugfest with Governor Perry.

Is that sort of slugfest that's going on between those two -- is that enough of a distraction so that you can move into New Hampshire and basically ice him out?

HUNTSMAN: It's a distraction. No question about it. And I'm not interested in drama. I'm not interested in talking about vaccinations. I'm not interested in talking about the latest spin on a book.

I'm interested in sharing a vision about where this country can go, the greatest nation that ever was. We're experiencing a time of difficulty. They're feeling it in New Hampshire. All they want is for somebody to come in and square with them, to tell the truth, and to take them to the promised land. And you've got to articulate a vision that's realistic, given our challenges that we face. We have big challenges, and they require equally big and bold fixes and solutions. And that's what we're bringing to the table.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you come across as sort of the nice guy candidate, but I just heard you do two jabs. One is the vaccination and one is the spin on the book. It's like the old days, we'd argue before a jury, we'd say, I'm not calling that police officer a liar, when indeed, you were calling him a liar. So you are jabbing them. It's not quite as nice and friendly as you suggest.

HUNTSMAN: Greta, you know, the American people -- they're sitting out there during these debates -- you know, 15 million unemployed, millions more who are so dispirited, they've given up trying, moms and dads and families who have been shipwrecked because they don't have the dignity of a job.

And sometimes in these debates, in our political discourse, there's more in the way of drama and there's more in the way this intrigue, and there's little substance and little discussion on what really people are interested in.

That's what we're taking into the living rooms in New Hampshire, and indeed, beyond that, throughout America. People are going to respond. It's early in the campaign. I remember when we had two front-runners four years ago, one named Giuliani, one named Thompson. And it didn't quite end up as people thought. There's a long way to go, and New Hampshire is going to be where this thing plays out in very, very interesting ways.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, The Hill today reports that Michael Moore -- I don't know if this is good for you or bad for you. Tell me. Michael Moore said you were the only sane candidate in the Republican field.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, if Michael Moore wants to buy onto my approach for tax cuts, my approach to regulatory reform, my approach to energy independence, my approach to getting our position right in the world, my pro-life, my pro-2nd Amendment position, I'll take it.

But the fact of the matter is, I think that's a representative example, Greta, of how this nation wants to come together. This nation desperately wants to find a leader who can transcend politics and who can find solutions that will begin to bring us together.

The divide we're facing in the United States is unhealthy and it is un-American and it is painful. And the way we're going to resolve it is by fixing our underlying problem, which is the economy, and that's going to create the jobs that finally are going to give the dignity that so many people lack today. And that will go a long way in bringing this country together. And if people have heard what we say, Greta, and if they buy it, and on both ends of the spectrum, if they believe it and trust it, they can come on board.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, based on your experience as former ambassador to China, there's a bill that is on Capitol Hill right now in the Senate -- it's bipartisan right now, 20 senators have signed onto it, 15 Democrats, 5 Republicans. And what it would essentially do is to punish China with tariffs for devaluating their currency.

I'm curious whether or not, if you were in the U.S. Senate -- I realize you want to be president. You don't want to be in the U.S. Senate -- or if it did pass, if you were president, would you sign that? Do you support that bill?

HUNTSMAN: I would sign it simply because you need to keep pressure on China. But let me tell you, it will be -- it will carry very little meaning at the end of the day. China will devalue its currency. It has for the last year to two years, and it will continue to. Why? Because it's in their interest.

They know they've got to devalue their currency. It's got to be more of a market-based model because they're transitioning from the largest export machine ever created in the history of humankind to a consumption machine, and they've got to go up the ladder. And their value is going to have to be -- their currency's going to have to be appropriately valued.

But here's the deal on China that not a lot of people are looking at. You know, the U.S.-China relationship is not going to work until such time as we fix our core (ph). We don't have leverage with China today because our economy is weak. The Chinese respect...

VAN SUSTEREN: I -- I think, though, Governor...

HUNTSMAN: ... a strong economy. They respect negotiators...

VAN SUSTEREN: I think, Governor, though...

HUNTSMAN: ... who can use that as leverage.

VAN SUSTEREN: I think a lot of people think, though, that our economy is a problem largely -- you know, that we are (INAUDIBLE) to China. They hold so much of our debt. But also, if they continue to devaluate their currency, then our builders, for instance, are going to buy their supplies in China, which is why I think Capitol Hill wants to put some sort of punishment on them, tariffs so that their -- their products become more expensive so that people want to buy more America than China. So I think it's a -- it's -- you know, it's a little bit more complicated and sort of -- you know, we don't have a lot of time to figure out what to do with our economy vis-a-vis China.

HUNTSMAN: Listen, for eight presidents now, since 1972, this has been a huge question. We've gone from zero trade in 1972 to $400 billion in trade today. There are a lot of small businesses and a lot of agriculture producers who are exporting into the China market these days. You've got to remember, you take action against China, you can expect them to rebut that action with commensurate tariffs.

You got to remember that during a recession, you don't want a trade war. So whatever you put on the table, you've got to back it up with law. You've got to back it up with real leverage. You've got to back it up with power and might. And that's why I say this country's got to have its economy fixed longer term for it to have a fair and competitive relationship with China.

But doing what the Senate is proposing doing on currency, I don't have any problem with that at all. Just keep in mind longer term, we've got to fix our core and we've got to get back on our feet economically if we're going to stand a chance in the global economy.

VAN SUSTEREN: You say you don't have any problem with it. Is it a good idea? Because some people say that it will ignite a trade war, the opponents of it. I mean, is it something that you advocate for, not simply you think that you don't have any problem with it, but do you advocate for it or think it's not a good idea?

HUNTSMAN: The fact that it will move through our Congress will be some leverage, and the Chinese will take note of that. And at least it will be a tool that we can take to the negotiating table. It will be a clear call on the part of the United States that the Congress cares about it, the American people care about it, and I think it's one tool where in a relationship we need all the help we can get. We need all the tools and leverage that we can muster. So the fact that it's moving through Congress I think will put the Chinese certainly on notice. And I don't have any problem with that.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Pakistan -- what would you do about Pakistan right now? Because we seem to be having growing problems with Pakistan. Any thoughts about that?

HUNTSMAN: Well, our bilateral relationship with Pakistan is a carry- over from the cold war. It had the potential to, I think, be a good bilateral relationship. Today it's transactional, and that puts us in a bad position.

There is a very young demographic with 180 million people. The madrassa movement is spreading, which is a cancer-like metastases within the country. They have nuclear weapons. They're in a very unstable neighborhood.

And it means that we have -- I think, have a very important opportunity to shore up our relationship with India. It means we can shore up our dialogue with people within the region. This is probably the one relationship in the world, Greta, that should keep any American leader up at night because you do not have leadership in that country right now, and you have elements within the Pakistani government that practically have gone rogue.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is President Obama doing the right thing or doing anything about Pakistan to your satisfaction, or dissatisfaction?

HUNTSMAN: I don't -- I don't -- you know, you can carry on a dialogue, but at the end of the day, we've got to clean up the region. And I believe we need more in the way of tactical intelligence-gathering. We don't need 100,000 troops on the ground. I think where we're positioned, for example, in Afghanistan is wrong right now. We need more in the way of tactical intelligence. We need more in the way of special forces capability. We need more in the way of drone strike capability.

And when we collect the intelligence, we should be prepared to act on it. It's just a matter of rearranging some of our national security and military assets that we have in the region.

But shoring up the relationship with India needs to happen yesterday, and I don't see movements in that regard. The region is a very volatile one. We have a good partner in India. We share common values. We share a democratic heritage. And we ought to shore up our intelligence-gathering capability and our military-to-military links with India and prepare for what could be a very rocky region.

VAN SUSTEREN: Thank you, sir. Hope you come back because it'll be a long campaign. Thank you, sir.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, Greta. A pleasure to be with you.