Huntsman Looks for Revitalization of GOP

The Republican Party needs to take a hard look at what conservatism stands for, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said Thursday in a talk at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

Republicans need to take time before the 2016 presidential election to reflect on what the party is in support of, rather than what it is against, he said. Education policy is an example, he said, pointing out that the only time Republican candidates spoke about education policy during the 2012 presidential campaign was when they discussed eliminating the Department of Education.

“The time is right for a good rehashing of Republican themes,” Huntsman said. “We’ve been fixated on issues past and present and not a whole lot on the future.”

“Our party needs to talk about immigration as an economic issue, not just a security issue,” Huntsman said. “We’ve got to continue to encourage brainpower to come into this country.”

He reminded the audience of the laundry list of Republican-driven changes and initiatives, including the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the declaration of the war on cancer.

“We have a deep literature of wins,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman, former governor of Utah and former U.S. ambassador to China, spoke Thursday for the second time this academic year as part of the Terry Sanford Distinguished Lecture series. His talk in October focused more on international issues, while Thursday’s dialogue covered more domestic topics.  Phil Bennett, professor of public policy and journalism, led the conversation with Huntsman, which ended with questions from the audience.

Huntsman, who is fluent in Mandarin, also spoke extensively about the U.S.-China relationship, adding that American interests are increasingly aligned with China’s.

“You have a relationship so intertwined and economically interdependent that you need to make it work,” Huntsman said.

Huntsman praised President Barack Obama’s ability to bring people together after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown, Conn., but said he would have handled changing gun policy differently. He said it is important to include Second Amendment supporters, mental health experts and representatives from Hollywood in discussions around changing gun policy.

When asked whether he plans to run for president in 2016, Huntsman did not give a direct answer, but said he remains committed to public service, and invited students also to commit to public service.

“I’m committed to making the world a better place but I refuse to let cynicism affect my brain,” Huntsman said.

“Cynicism and fear are the two drivers of bad outcomes in this country.”