Huntsman (Jacqueline Martin/AP)
The former Utah governor and U.S. Ambassador to China on Thursday argued in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. that he is the best leader to restore Americans' trust in Congress, the tax code, wars, Wall Street and its regulators--and especially in the presidency itself.
"The American people have been let down time and again," Huntsman said. "They have lost confidence in how our nation is run. As a result, anxiety and worry have filled our nation's psyche. We are a country divided and suffering from self doubt."
"Correcting our course and restoring trust with the American people will take more than rhetoric and slogans."
Huntsman outlined a seven-point plan to get America back on track and improve Americans' outlook. Among the objectives on that list: reforming the tax code; tackling the deficit by cutting government spending; ensuring that no financial entity is "too big to fail"; adopting a comprehensive energy policy; bringing troops home from Afghanistan; and reforming Congress via term-limits and lobbying restrictions.
Thursday's speech kicked off the message Huntsman will tout in New Hampshire in the remaining weeks before the state's Jan. 10 primary. Huntsman's campaign has placed nearly all of its resources in the first-in-the-nation primary state, hoping that a strong showing there will give his campaign a jolt of momentum.
Mitt Romney, former governor of the neighboring state of Massachusetts, represents Huntsman's biggest threat in New Hampshire--and so, not surprisingly, a new attack ad from the Huntsman campaign has Romney clearly in its sites.
Echoing criticism from Romney's other GOP rivals and Democratic messaging, Huntsman has lately been branding Romney a "flip-flopper." That is also the dominant theme of the video the Huntsman released on Thursday, and the candidate himself singled out Romney's record in his Press Club speech.
"Governor Romney will say anything to earn the voters' trust," he said.
Huntsman also took a jab at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is experiencing a surge in national surveys and many state polls. Huntsman said America is "in this mess" because there are too many people in Washington simply telling people "what they want to hear." "Newt Gingrich is a product of that same Washington who participated in the excesses of our broken and polarized political system," he said.
Huntsman is all but ignoring the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, where staunch conservatives—such as 2008 caucus winner Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister-- easily find favor.
Huntsman is promoting himself as a conservative, touting his fiscal record and past service under Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush at the same time he faces criticism for being a moderate and a recent nominee of the Obama administration.
He readily concedes voters may not share some of his beliefs.
"You may not agree with me on every single issue, but you'll always know exactly where I stand and I will never waver from my conservative convictions," Huntsman said Thursday.
And indeed, in his first exchange with reporters following his speech Thursday, Huntsman offered comments that placed him squarely at odds with several of his competitors. Asked about reports that the Obama administration will fund efforts to support gay rights abroad, Huntsman defended the thinking behind the initiative. "I believe in fairness—I think that should be a guiding principle of all Americans. I believe in civil unions . . . equality under the law . . .from this country we can lead by example."
By contrast, Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered a statement Tuesday opposing the move, arguing that "investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many [Americans] of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong."
At the outset of his Press Club speech, which was streamed live online, Huntsman joked that his Internet traffic wouldn't compare favorably to the efforts of his now-famous daughters, who've made an online splash with their social media and YouTube activity.
Following the speech, Mary Anne, Liddy and Abby wouldn't reveal any clues about their next YouTube production. "You'll have to wait and see," Liddy said.
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