Huntsman says Obama has 'failed on the economic front'

Former Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said President Obama has “failed on the economic front,” in some of his most direct criticism of his former boss since he began exploring a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

“On the economic side, there are no signs of success, very little,” Huntsman said in an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “You look at unemployment, you look at the environment in which jobs supposedly can be created, when you look at the debt level and you look at all the economic indicators, it would suggest that we're in bad shape.”

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Huntsman, a former Utah governor, has been careful to avoid sharp attacks on Obama after stepping down less than six weeks ago. He said he is “right at the end point” of his consideration process for a presidential run and expected to jump in the race in about a week and a half.

“We’ve basically checked all the boxes,” Huntsman said, citing his family’s approval, financial strength and the ability to mount aggressive campaigns in the early primary states.

Huntsman is not participating in a GOP debate in New Hampshire on Monday, saying “there will be plenty of debates” for him to enter. He could face an uphill battle winning the nomination due to positions he has taken on gay rights and climate change, in addition to his service in the Obama administration, that are not popular among the GOP base.

Those hurdles were made clear when CNN broadcast an interview with former N.H. Gov. John Sununu after Huntsman appeared. Asked why he didn't name Huntsman as a Republican he might support, Sununu replied: "I only support Republicans."

"He was fawning over Obama to the point where he sounded like he should have been on MSNBC," he added in reference to Huntsman's praise of the president after his nomination as China ambassador. "The problem wasn't so much that he served as ambassador but that he just gushed over policies that made no sense."

Huntsman has said his record as governor was conservative, and while he has reversed his support of cap and trade climate policy, he has stood by his backing of civil unions for same-sex couples.

On foreign policy, Huntsman said he and Obama “have different world views.” He suggested he would move more rapidly to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan, questioning whether there is public support to keep them there through 2014, as Obama has planned.

He avoided direct criticism of his potential GOP rivals beyond noting, as he has before, that the healthcare bill he signed in Utah contained no mandates, unlike the one Mitt Romney, the current Republican front-runner, signed as governor in Massachusetts.

Huntsman rejected tax increases as part of a plan to reduce the deficit. “I don’t think the nation is ready for that,” he said. “I think it’d be the worst possible thing we could do when our nation needs to begin to grow.”

Huntsman did say he would move toward a phase out of “all subsidies,” including ethanol and those for the oil and gas industry.