This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," October 25, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: We welcome you to our "Center Seat" tonight. Republican presidential candidate and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Governor, thanks for being here.
JON HUNTSMAN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks, Bret. Pleasure to be with you.
BAIER: Governor, first of all, the path to the nomination -- the latest polls are out. A new CBS poll out, a national poll, shows Herman Cain topping the list. You're listed down at one percent in the national poll. If you look at New Hampshire, the latest, the most recent poll, the NBC News-Marist poll, you are there at five percent. What is the path, for someone who looks at you and says, you know what, he looks presidential and I like what is he says, but I don't see him gaining traction as of yet?
HUNTSMAN: Look to New Hampshire, because New Hampshire is a very unique window through which not only the people of New Hampshire but the people of the United States get to see and meet the candidates and get to seen them in real time in a real forum in front of town hall meetings and house parties.
So we have gone from zero in New Hampshire to what was 10, 11 percent in a recent poll, and you can get five and eight percent in other polls. We are moving in the right direction. We have done 80 events in New Hampshire. We're proving the point that putting out that good old Adlai Stevenson shoe leather on the ground matters. People want to know your heart and soul, they want to see you work for it and they want to see you earn it. And that's what we're doing.
BAIER: But, you know, your fundraising for the third quarter, $4.5 million. Cash on hand $328,000. But you have $3.1 million in debt. That's concerning to some supporters who say are you in it for long haul? How long can you sustain this?
HUNTSMAN: The numbers go up in New Hampshire, Bret, and fundraising goes up 250 percent. So it's like the marketplace. It's like a startup company. Introduce it to the marketplace and people start buying, you'll get additional investors. If we go up in New Hampshire, more money comes in.
BAIER: Governor, I want you to listen to this sound bite. It is you talking about some issues before Charles starts his question here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HUNTSMAN: The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party, the anti-science party, we have a huge problem. When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said, what the National Academy of Sciences has said about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on wrong side of science and therefore in a losing position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Governor, I'm with you on evolution. I'm an agnostic on global warming. Does it make me anti-science?
HUNTSMAN: Of course not. It means that you have got a position, and I respect that. And when you have a body of scientists who have weighed in to the extent they have, and I am a little reminded of, ya know, having been involved in building a cancer institute out west. If you had 98 out of 100 oncologists who said we think we have some important breakthroughs on breast, colon, and prostate cancer that is meaningful for people to understand in terms of procedures going forward, we would turn and say science has spoken. It's important to respect that.
So all I am saying is you raise your kids to go out and find a cure for cancer, you raise your kids to get educated and to solve the world's big problem problems. And when the scientific community speaks, I think, ya know, we take a look at what they say have to say. And I think that when they speak I tend to respect that.
KRAUTHAMMER: Are you saying that the case is closed on global warming?
HUNTSMAN: No, I'm not saying it's closed at all. I think it will continue to evolve. And I think science has a responsibility. When some of it has been called into question, the scientific community has a responsibility to stand up and explain themselves.
KRAUTHAMMER: But there is a difference between evolution and global warming. Global warming has implications for the spending of trillions of dollars -
HUNTSMAN: Of course --
KRAUTHAMER: -- of tax money and changing the way that America lives. So it isn't as if it's an abstraction. Are you willing to engage in those activities which would be -- that could be ruinous if misspent on the basis of a theory that you say the case is not closed?
HUNTSMAN: I respect the science. In terms of the tools I would use to address it, I say if we are reading one body of science here and the Chinese are reading a different body of science there and the Indians are yet again reading something different, the largest emitters in the world are going from different benchmarks. And how can we unilaterally disarm in this country and impose something in the way of cost for the job creators when the largest emitters in the world are reading from a different scientific text?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL: Well, you might not be willing to legislate any changes that will cost a lot of money, but you are known for your comments about the fear that the Republican Party will turn anti-science, be perceived that way by swing voters and will ultimately lose in this election or in the ones to come. You are known also for supporting the civil union for gay couples.
And also, you have articulated a vision for foreign policy that some in your party, like Senator Lindsey Graham, might characterize as leading from behind. And these views make you a moderate in your party. Are your views mainstream, or are the views of Republican primary voters out of step with the rest of country?
HUNTSMAN: I am pro-life. I always have been. I'm pro Second Amendment. And I say with a name like Huntsman you really have no choice.
HUNTSMAN: I delivered the largest tax cut in the history of my state. I put forward the second voucher piece of legislation ever in our nation's history. I brought about health care reform without a mandate. I tripled the rainy day funds. We had the best managed state in America based on what the Pew Center had to say about it. We delivered for our people.
And all I can say is look at how I govern. You can say civil unions. I'm to the right of Dick Cheney and I'm kind of right where Bush was and right where William Buckley was when he wrote about it before he passed on. I think these are all legitimate issues to be discussing as members of the Republican Party. But you look at how I governed in Utah, I'm a problem-solving conservative governor. The results speak for themselves.
STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: As you no doubt heard Mitt Romney today decline to endorse Issue Two, declined to support Governor Kasich's position on Issue Two in Ohio which would restrict the collective bargaining rights of public employees. Where are you on the issue, and what do you think of what Mitt Romney said today?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I think that once again it represents a sense of ambivalence in terms of where he wants to find himself on some of the most important issues of the day. On a mandate, we did health care reform without a mandate in our state. We made the marketplace come to life through recognizing the need to broaden and expand options for consumers.
On collective bargaining, I think Kasich is absolutely right. You know, I think you've got 315,000 members of the public employee union there contributing more for health care and contributing more for benefits. Is [INAUDIBLE] going to go a long way in getting the numbers balanced. That is what must be done. Does it still allow them to gather and collectively bargain? Of course it does. But I think it's right on in terms of where this nation needs to go in getting our numbers right. This is a structural issue. It's a structural problem like taxes and regulation that has to be addressed.
BAIER: More with Governor Huntsman and the panel after a quick timeout. And log on to "Special Report" online for your chance to ask the candidate questions tonight. Go to Foxnews.com/SRonline to get started. We'll be right back.
BAIER: We're back with former Utah governor Jon Huntsman in the "Center Seat." Governor, you turned around Utah's finances in part by developing a flat tax there. There is a lot of talk about flat tax today with Governor Perry's plan. The 999 plan is a different type of plan. But what do you make of all of these plans? Your plan is not that. It's not a flat tax, but it has been endorsed, of course, by the Wall Street Journal.
HUNTSMAN: Our plan is realistic and doable. Now, I'm not giving an academic dissertation on this. I'm a practitioner. We did a flat tax. We phased out deductions in our state on the individual income side. We lowered the rate, we broadened the base, and we simplified.
Rick Perry's program is an option. It doesn't solve the problem, it just includes another option because the current system still remains intact. And it means if you want to continue gaming the system based upon loopholes and deductions that are currently there, you can do that.
Our tax offering, which puts three rates in place, eight, 14, and 23, it phases out all loopholes and deductions, all corporate welfare and subsidies, so you can't game the system. It is three rates, and it's simple and it's transparent and it broadens the base and it leaves us a whole lot more competitive than we are today.
BAIER: And you have concerns about the national sales tax, element of 999?
HUNTSMAN: Listen, everyone likes a national sales tax to some level, to some degree. But if it's introducing another revenue stream, I don't like that. And if it's nonstarter when it gets to Congress, I don't like that part either. You gotta have to have something that actuall yis in the real world.
BAIER: Let's turn to foreign policy, A.B.
STODDARD: Governor, you criticized President Obama for announcing a complete withdrawal of our troops from Iraq last week and you claimed you are concerned that Iraq could backslide and our gains there could be reversed. But given that President Obama did try to keep a residual force there for counterterrorism purposes, what would you -- he was not guaranteed immunity for our remaining troops. What would you have done differently to convince the Iraqis to keep our troops there?
HUNTSMAN: I think the opening was there with Maliki. I really do. I think the opening was there, and I don't think the issue was pressed. And I think you have come at it to some extent from the point of view that the mischief making coming out of Tehran as it relates straight across to Damascus and support for Hamas and Hezbollah is very real.
And we need to maintain some sort of dam, some sort of buffer, and that would be in the form of tactical intelligence gathering, special forces, ongoing training for the Iraqi army. That I think is a very prudent thing to leave behind. And making that case with Maliki and his government I think would have been the right thing to do. It seems to me that --
STODDARD: And you think the administration did not make that case?
HUNTSMAN: I don't think they made the case. I don't think they made the case.
KRAUTHAMMER: Governor, on Afghanistan, your position, as I understand it, is that we should leave. If we leave, how do we without the bases that we now have in Afghanistan, how do we put the pressure on the Haqqani Network and the other jihadists on the frontier areas of Pakistan which we're able to do today? And second, if we leave, what would you do if you were president if afterwards, or shortly afterwards the Karzai were overrun by the Taliban?
HUNTSMAN: You have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. And I say I don't want to be nation building in Afghanistan at a time when this nation needs to be built. I want to recognize the threat that exists. It's an asymmetric counterterror threat. We need something, but not 100,000 troops. We need intelligence and special forces and training capabilities. That may be 10,000 or 15,000.
KRAUTHAMMER: But where do you put them and how do you protect them if the area is hostile? If you pull out of the areas we are now, the Taliban'll take over. How do you protect these forces?
HUNTSMAN: The intelligence gathering is critical, the ability to go after the bad people. We still want to make sure we do. But when you have got so many over there today who can't go outside the wire, so to speak, who are involved more in nation building than anything else, I don't think we lose any of our punch, any of our ability to collect intelligence and to go after the bad guy. That must be maintained and very vigorously so.
KRAUTHAMMER: So you have a garrison in Kabul?
HUNTSMAN: Well, we'd have a garrison wherever it is needed in order to maintain 10,000 or 15,000 who are dedicated to that ongoing counterterror asymmetric mission.
HAYES: You don't -- just to clarify, you don't think we would lose any of our intelligence gathering capabilities if we drew down from the current number of troops to 10,000 to 15,000?
HUNTSMAN: I wouldn't want to lose that intelligence gathering capability.
HAYES: But you don't think that would happen -
HUNTSMAN: If we shore up our capabilities with the Indians and others in the region and deepen our intelligence sharing capabilities -- there is a whole lot more that we can do, a whole lot more in the way of relationship building and alliance building that I think could go a long way in the region as well.
HAYES: Shifting to China, when you were ambassador to China under President Obama, was there ever a time you received a directive from the White House telling you to do something that you thought didn't make sense, didn't work or wouldn't work or was imprudent? If so, what did you do?
HUNTSMAN: There was a 421 trade case, a tires dumping case that I thought was nonsensical. And it was pushed by the unions. I made my opinions known in conversations with some who were senior level economic decision-makers. If we take action on a 421 case, which was never meant to be used in the first place, but more an opportunity to sit down and negotiate it away, we're gonna be retaliated against, and we're going to play a price for this.
So we slapped $2 billion worth of tariffs on tires. What happened shortly thereafter, we got $2 billion in tariffs slapped on us on chicken parts. You could see it coming.
Also, I used this thing call promoting human rights aggressively as ambassador. And I know not everyone likes a crazy American ambassador in Beijing who's gonna stand tall on human rights, but I thought it was the most important thing I could do, waving the American flag every day, meeting with dissidents and having them come in to the embassy, and reminding people who are not easily recognized in that society that we are with them on issues of political reform, on press freedom, and on religious freedoms.
BAIER: We have many more questions, but in 10 seconds, are you more conservative than Governor Mitt Romney?
HUNTSMAN: Listen, the record says it all. Number one in job creation versus 47, health care reform without a mandate. I have always been pro-life, I have always been pro Second Amendment, just to begin the list.
BAIER: Well, we have many more questions for you in our online segment. We'll continue it right after this break. That is it for the panel here. But stay tuned to see the governor getting swarmed by fans before a big interview.
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