Jon Huntsman may have given Mitt Romney his immediate endorsement upon dropping out last month (albeit without Romney at the announcement), but he hasn’t exactly done Romney any favors as a freelance campaign spokesman.
While Tim Pawlenty, another vanquished Romney foe turned ally, ended up co-chairing the frontrunner’s campaign and performing yeoman’s work as a spokesman, Huntsman has been a bit less helpful.
Take China, an area where the former ambassador Huntsman has a lot of experience. Despite his newfound support, he hasn’t become any less critical of Romney’s tough talk against the foreign rival on issues like currency manipulation.
“I’ve seen a lot of candidates who later became president who use a lot of rhetoric,” he said in an MSNBC interview earlier this month. “It’s much easier to talk about China in terms of the fear factor than the opportunity factor. I would disagree with some of what Governor Romney has said, and it’s not surprising that Republicans disagree with each other from time to time.”
He added that his advice to Romney on the issue would be “less pandering.”
Huntsman and Romney seemed to have a special antipathy on the campaign trail and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that the former Utah governor has warmed up to him much judging by his public statements. On Wednesday, he suggested on MSNBC that America needs a third party.
“I think we’re going to have problems politically until we get some sort of third party movement or some voice out there that can put forth new ideas,” Huntsman said. “Someone’s going to step up at some point and say we’ve had enough of this. The real issues are not being addressed and it’s time that we put forward an alternative vision, a bold thinking. We might not win, but we can certainly influence the debate.”
But what about his support for Romney? Huntsman gave about the most meh endorsement possible, calling him his top choice “given the lay of the land today” and making clear he was not an official “surrogate” for the candidate.
“Until such time as we can fundamentally address the economic side we’re going to be in bad shape,” Huntsman said. “I think Mitt Romney’s the best person to handle that economic side.”
Even his endorsement wasn’t without an edge. He used the opportunity to condemn the negative campaigns of unnamed Republican rivals. Romney and a supportive Super PAC at the time were dominating the airwaves with attacks while Gingrich and Perry retaliated by accusing the frontrunner of profiting off layoffs at Bain Capital.
“This race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks … not worthy of the American people and this time in history,” Huntsman said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.