Manchester, N.H. • An hour into a debate aimed at breaking away from the sound-bite-stuffed forums that have carried the Republican presidential race so far, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman passed on a chance to add more to a long discussion on how the United States should have capitalized on the Arab spring revolts.
“I can see my daughter nodding off over there which means we’ve gone too long,” Huntsman said, noting the debate should move along. “She’s also my senior foreign policy adviser, so that’s not a good thing,” he added, jokingly, of his 12-year-old adopted child, Gracie Mei.
In a modern take on the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, Huntsman joined former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on stage at Saint Anselm College in Manchester for a 90-minute back-and-forth discussion.
Sound bites were hard to find as both candidates waded deep into the weeds on foreign policy, shunning the need for time limits and a panel of questioners in favor of detailed comments riddled with the names of foreign leaders and mentions of historical examples.
The topics roamed from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the idea of a nuclear Iran to the rise of China as a world power-broker. A moderator noted that the long-winded remarks allowed only five of the 10 subjects planned for the debate.
Both candidates kept to their typical talking points — expanded to fill the time — and lobbed friendly comments at each other instead of sniping remarks.
“This is what we should have a lot more of because this is substantive,” Gingrich said. “This is not a Hollywood game, this is not a reality show. This is reality.”
Huntsman, too, challenged more of his rivals to take the stage for similar forums.
“The winners would really be the American people,” Huntsman said when asked which of the candidates “won” the forum.
Though termed a debate, the candidates either agreed with each other or passed on directly engaging when they differed.
When Gingrich said that a nuclear Iran could lead to “virtually the end of Judaism on the planet,” Huntsman steered his comments to criticizing President Barack Obama’s administration for what he said was a lack of action against Iran.
“He spoke to regime change,” Huntsman said afterward. “I spoke to a missed opportunity.”
Obama took the most jabs in the debate, including the first hit by Gingrich over the administration’s mandate that anti-terrorism materials not include the word “jihadists.”
“That’s like talking about the Cold War without mentioning Communists,” Gingrich said.
Huntsman questioned the need for as large of a military as the United States currently fields in 700 installations in 60 countries worldwide.
“We’re probably not looking at a massive land war,” Huntsman said. “Nobody is being isolationist about it; we’re just being smart.”
Gingrich riffed off the federal government’s love for studying policy options rather than taking action, arguing that NASA’s lack of a space shuttle is a great example.
“Does it ever occur to you why we spend billions on a space agency that doesn’t have a vehicle to get into space?” Gingrich added.
When the topic switched to China, Huntsman, a former U.S. ambassador to the country, explained how he sees rising grass-roots power in the country from residents who do not want to be censored — and that the United States needs to engage them.
Gingrich deferred to Huntsman on Chinese policy, but noted that it’s up to America to step up if it wants to stay the world leader.
“If we do the right things here, China can’t compete with us,” Gingrich said. “If we’re determined to be domestically stupid, it is impractical for us to ask the Chinese to match us in stupidity.”
Gingrich, leading in the polls in three of the four early states, took the opportunity to engage on a more substantive level, but it was Huntsman — yearning to climb in the polls — who benefited from a packed crowd and a large media contingent waiting for him outside.
Huntsman’s wife, Mary Kaye, was quick to pounce on what she said was the perfect forum for her husband as he starts to gain some traction in the state with the first-in-the-nation primary.
“It reminds me a lot of when he ran for governor,” she said. “He grew on people.”
Huntsman: Not running as an independent
Petersborough, N.H. • Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said Monday he would not seek a third-party bid for the White House if his race for the Republican nomination falls short.
“I’m not running as an independent,” Huntsman said in answer to a question by The Salt Lake Tribune in this New Hampshire hamlet. “I don’t know how many times I have to say that.”
Huntsman previously had been somewhat coy about his options should he lose this key primary state, saying only that he is running as a Republican and that he plans to win. His answer Monday marked the most definitive answer that he would not seek to run an independent White House campaign.
Pundits have theorized that Huntsman — who has been in the back of the polls so far — might opt for a third-party run, which could siphon off independents from the Republican nominee and President Barack Obama.