Jon Huntsman, back in Utah and exploring a run for his old job as governor after a two-year stint as U.S. ambassador to Russia, isn’t saying whether he will support or endorse President Donald Trump’s reelection. But, he said in an interview Monday with The Tribune, a strong economy and nonintervention record could boost the president’s support in 2020.
“He’s blustery, he’s bombastic, he’s outspoken,” Huntsman said of Trump. “He tweets in ways that make a lot of people uncomfortable — including me. But in the end, I think [voters] are going to say, ‘Are we at war?’”
Huntsman said he is “very troubled” by allegations against the president and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, which are currently part of a formal House impeachment inquiry.
But while those allegations should continue to be investigated, Huntsman said that voters, rather than Congress, should determine Trump’s fate during the next election.
“That leaves us in a better place than an impeachment process that ultimately is going to veer toward politics,” Huntsman said.
Congressional Democrats launched the House impeachment inquiry in September, following the release of a whistleblower complaint that accused Trump of withholding military aid to Ukraine in an effort to convince the recently-elected president of that country to launch an investigation into the son of Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president and one of Trump’s top political rivals.
And on Halloween, the House formalized that inquiry by voting — largely along party lines — to approve a resolution establishing rules and procedures, with hearings scheduled to move into a public setting this week.
Among Utah’s federal delegation, Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams has said the inquiry is necessary to establish facts and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has described the allegations against Trump as “troubling in the extreme.” The remaining delegation members have largely criticized the inquiry, while Republican Rep. Chris Stewart has been a particularly vocal defender of the president, despite missing roughly half of the closed-door hearings on impeachment that he had access to as a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — who succeeded Huntsman as the state’s governor — recently described the impeachment inquiry as a “circus,” but added that the fact-finding process should continue.
“This is serious and we should be treating this as a serious issue,” Herbert said. “There are certainly questions. There is a process outlined in our Constitution to answer these questions. Impeachment? The Senate Trial? Let that roll out.”
Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who has declared his candidacy for governor and could face Huntsman in 2020, has similarly criticized Congress but has not directly commented on the impeachment inquiry or the allegations at the center of it. The same is true of other Republican candidates for governor, as well.
Asked about concerns of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and going forward, Huntsman said he expects Russia to continue interfering. The country has a long history of using propaganda and misinformation for malign activities, he said, which has evolved to include modern communication methods.
“It’s not going to stop,” Huntsman said. “This is a toolbox that has existed for some time and it’s a toolbox that is only strengthening with technology.”
Huntsman said he’s seen America’s international reputation ebb and flow under various presidents — he also served as an ambassador under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Barack Obama — but that the United States remains unmatched with its combined economic performance, national defense, civil society and “soft power” or cultural influence.
“There’s still only one superpower in the world,” Huntsman said. “There are a couple of great powers, and among them are China and Russia, but there’s only one superpower.”
Editor’s note: Jon Huntsman is the brother of Paul Huntsman, Tribune owner and publisher.
Tribune reporter Bethany Rodgers contributed to this report.