Former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, speaking in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, described an effort spearheaded by strategist Karl Rove to intervene in Republican primaries as “yesterday’s ballgame” and called on his party to focus on big ideas rather than political tactics. Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to China, also said he worries about the danger that a military “incident” between China and Japan may escalate into an unintended conflict.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with former Republican presidential candidate and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
Governor, thank you for being with us.
FORMER GOVERNOR JON HUNTSMAN: Al, great to be with you.
HUNT: You are co-chair of No Labels, advocating a bipartisan approach to issues, controversies.
HUNT: We need some specifics, though. You say, for instance, that on guns, a middle ground is a no-brainer. Should that no-brainer include a ban on assault weapons? Should it include background checks with no loopholes? Should it include a ban on magazine clips with more than 10 bullets?
HUNTSMAN: The thing about No Labels, Al, is not taking positions on issues. It’s about changing the culture of Washington to a focus on problem-solving. So it doesn’t matter whether it’s guns or immigration or energy or tax reform, we’ve lost the ability to make a deal in this town. We’ve lost the ability to actually problem-solve.
So our goal, simply put, is to take Republicans and Democrats, of whom there are 30 today -- our goal by the end of the year is to get 80 -- in a problem-solvers bloc who agree when they walk in a room to meet once a month, check their ego at the door, govern for the next generation and not the next election cycle -
HUNT: Three weeks, sequester comes up, $1.2 trillion of cuts. Most people think it’s a meat ax, terrible approach. What should be done instead?
HUNTSMAN: Well, why are we here? The sequester is in effect or it might be March 1 because we failed 2011, basically, around the debt -- the debt-ceiling debate. So why did we fail? We failed because we didn’t have a focus on problem-solving. You get a few Republicans and Democrats who are part of that commission to get in a room together and to figure out where to cut, where to raise, a little bit -
HUNT: So what should we do in the next three weeks?
HUNTSMAN: Well, we need a balanced approach. We’ve already -
HUNTSMAN: Revenues got to be on the table. You’ve got to cut. We haven’t had a discussion about the -
HUNT: So there will have to be revenues, entitlements, and discretionary?
HUNTSMAN: You got to get right to entitlements. The sequester doesn’t get to entitlements. It takes, you know, $109 billion bucks this year over -- you know, and over the next 10 years, similar amounts, half, virtually, out of the military, the other half out of discretionary spending. You want to blow a hole in basic research and education support and other very important non-discretionary matters? This is how you do it, which hurts the economy.
HUNT: But also doesn’t get to revenues. You’re saying it’s got to get to entitlements and revenues?
HUNTSMAN: You’ve got to have revenues on the table. You’ve got to have -- you’ve got to have -- you’ve got to have loopholes on the table. You’ve got to clear the tax code of loopholes.
HUNT: Revenue raising.
HUNTSMAN: That -- loopholes have got to be on the table. Some see it as revenue-raising. I see it as cleaning the tax code of all of the encumbrances that keep us from growing.
HUNT: The Republican Party. There’s been a universal call for change. What does that mean? Does that mean messaging and -- and image? Or does that mean policy, substantive alterations?
HUNTSMAN: We need to look back at who we are as a party. You know, we’re the party of Lincoln. We’re the party of Roosevelt. We’re the party of Eisenhower, the party of Reagan, so we’ve got a whole vast literature of things we’ve done to shape this country into what it is today.
HUNT: And what policy changes would you like to see, in what areas?
HUNTSMAN: I think we need to focus more on reform. So the growth agenda’s great, and all Republicans talk about growth. You got to have a tax policy that works. You’ve got to grow the economy, expand the base, create jobs. The economy’s going to rebound. It would have been a lot faster a rebound if we had pro-growth policies, want to have those. But the next big thing for Republicans, Al, is going to be how you make the system work, which is reforming government. And if we’re not smart enough to take on banks that are too big to fail, things like term limits and even campaign finance reform -- I know that’s controversial -- but you got to make the system work at the end of this.
HUNT: You’re for term limits?
HUNTSMAN: I’m for term limits.
HUNT: Which basically turns more power over to unelected bureaucrats.
HUNTSMAN: Some argue -- some argue that. I say that incumbency leads to crony capitalism. And when you get the same people elected time after time -- we ought to be the party that takes after redistricting, that takes after, you know, the idea that we have -
HUNT: Would you have a commission for redistricting?
HUNTSMAN: I’d have independent redistricting commissions.
HUNT: Yeah, like California did?
HUNTSMAN: Seventy percent of the seats in this country are locked in, red and blue. We’ve got to back -- I tried to get that done as governor. I ran on term limits as governor. It wasn’t to be with my legislature, but I think there’s a mood change in this country that says, all right, you’ve blown up the system, now you’ve got to make it work.
HUNT: Karl Rove has established a Conservative Victory Project to try, he says, to elect better primary candidates and drive out the ones that he says are unelectable. Is this a good idea?
HUNTSMAN: Well, I think it’s -- you know, I -- Rove can do whatever he wants. I think he’s kind of yesterday’s ballgame. But I think Republicans need to focus, first and foremost, on big ideas. Ideas are going to drive people. People are then going to elect the leaders of tomorrow.
HUNT: So that’s not -- so, therefore, the Rove thing is yesterday tactics as opposed to ideas?
HUNTSMAN: That’s politics, you know? Politics isn’t going to win the elections for us. It’s not -- it’s not about people. It’s about ideas. And the ideas are going to drive people to victory. We don’t have any ideas now that are big enough and bold enough and visionary enough for most Americans to say, “I like that, I want to sign on, and I want that person to lead me to the future.”
HUNT: Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, one of the stars of the Republican Party, said we have to stop being the stupid party. A couple of years ago, he embraced a birther bill. Is that stupid?
HUNTSMAN: Well, it’s a message bill. You know, messaging is -- is not a good thing to do in politics at a time when we need big ideas. Messaging and pandering and pledge-signing are all things that take our eye off the ball. We ought to be focused on a strategy for this country that speaks to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, growing the economic base, and giving people opportunity. If we’re not focused on that, we’re wasting time.
HUNT: Let me -- let me take advantage, too, of your China expertise as a former ambassador. Do you see the dangers of the Japanese-Chinese dispute over the islands in East China Sea fueling nationalist sentiments in both places, one we have a treaty with, the other we’re economically dependent upon? Do you worry that that could spin out of control?
HUNTSMAN: The tensions are -- are real, and they’ve been there for a long time. You’re talking about sovereignty issues that have been around at least since 1895, some since the end of World War II.
What I worry about is the crowded airspace around --the Diaoyu or the Senkaku Islands. You get more surveillance flights by China, by Japan, by Korea, even by Russia, most recently, with the Kuril Islands up north. You get more sorties. You get more planes that are then scrambled to go after those reconnaissance. That means that skies are more crowded with maneuvers. That then leads to the prospects of maybe an unwanted incident.
So I don’t worry about the rhetoric, because I’ve heard the rhetoric for years, and it’s very real, particularly during political season. So you’ve had a transition in China. We’ve had elections in Japan with Shinzo Abe coming to the forefront. We’ve had elections in South Korea. So -
HUNT: But you worry about some incident in the air?
HUNTSMAN: I worry about the military maneuvers in crowded airspaces and sea lanes, where an incident can escalate something beyond anyone’s ability to then de-escalate it.
HUNT: On another China question, recently, they blasted the North Koreans and warned against any more nuclear tests. Is this just rhetoric? Or is this some kind of real sea change in their policy toward North Korea?
HUNTSMAN: The Chinese are very concerned about North Korea. They have been for some time. They’re a country that is rogue, that is untrustworthy. They blow up bombs, as they did twice in recent years, and they’re threatening to do it again. That for China is the worst nightmare come true.
HUNT: And you expect to see China continue to be more aggressive in trying to rein in -
HUNTSMAN: They’re going to be very aggressive against North Korea because the implications are very real economically for the Chinese. So you look at the whole of Northeast Asia, which is soon to be 20 percent of the world’s GDP -- Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, the northern part of China -- it’s a bustling part of the world, the sea lanes, East China Sea that carries two-thirds of our trade. And you get one country that engages in saber-rattling, the whole region becomes on edge, and it gums up trade and commerce, and everyone -- everyone feels the pain of that, China particularly.
HUNT: Jon Huntsman, thank you so much for being with us.
HUNTSMAN: Great to be with you.
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