Jersey City, NJ - Former Ambassador to China and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman formally declared his candidacy for president Tuesday morning at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, a backdrop invoking patriotism and hope — and some Reaganesque history for the audience.
Huntsman, whose Utah and international diplomacy background gave him no particular roots in New Jersey or the New York area, spoke to a fairly small crowd of between 100 and 150 people. But he did have backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, towering just across the river — the same view as that used by Ronald Reagan for a major speech in the 1980 general election, when he formally kicked off the Fall campaign season on Labor Day.
The Huntsman family walked across a field to the crowd, as soft music played over the P.A. system, pausing briefly to regard a statue of a soldier. Before the walk began, a brief biography video played on a screen near the stage, as a folksy narrator extolled Huntsman’s virtues, that he governed Utah effectively, and made “bold, meaningful cuts — not just the ones that looked good.”
Many of the announcer’s points for Huntsman seemed to be veiled shots at competitor Mitt Romney, without naming him directly: Of Huntsman’s business background, the narrator said that he “build jobs — didn’t just buy them”; it was also said that he “took on health care — did it right — no mandates, not government-run — if only others had done that.”
The narrator also seemed to put Huntsman’s international diplomacy background in humble terms, saying that Huntsman speaks “Mandarin Chinese, and Hokkien — whatever that is.” (Note: Hokkien is a Chinese dialect based in Taiwan, and spoken throughout Southeast Asia by about 47 million people.)
Huntsman’s speech mixed Republican red meat with a sense of compassion and civility — a measured pace aimed at both GOP partisans for the primaries, and swing voters who must not be alienated for the general election.
“You see, we have everything a nation could ever hope for. We have our freedom, we have rule of law, the longest surviving constitution, and our abiding belief in personal responsibility,” said Huntsman. “We have freedom of speech, religion, and press. We produce a quarter of the world’s GDP, and we are the most productive society on earth. We have the finest colleges and universities, and the most skilled, powerful and selfless Armed Forces.
“And we have character. Character that made a new world from a wilderness. character that made a desert bloom and cities rise to the heavens. what we now need is leadership that trusts in our strength.
But in addition to that celebration of Americana, he also warned, the nation is facing serious trouble.
“For the first time in our history, we are about to pass down to the next generation a country that is less powerful, less compassionate, less competitive and less confident than the one we got,” said Huntsman. This is totally unacceptable and totally un-American. And it need not, must not, will not be our permanent condition. We will not be the first American generation that lets down the next generation.”
At the same time, he spoke of being civil to the other candidates in the race — making contrasts on policies, but not attacking others personally. And he even extended this to President Obama, the man who made him Ambassador to China, and whom he now hopes to run against in the 2012 general election.
“I don’t think you need to run down anyone’s reputation to run for President. Of course we’ll have our disagreements. I respect my fellow Republican candidates. And I respect the President. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who’s the better American.”