Jon Huntsman worked to distance himself from President Obama on Wednesday, saying in a CNBC debate that the president had "failed miserably" and left the nation with a messy balance sheet.

"We talk about failed leadership. We certainly have failed leadership," Hunstman said.

Although all the GOP presidential candidates have been critical of Obama, creating distance presents Huntsman with a unique challenge, because he is the only one of the candidates to have served in Obama's administration. Huntsman, a Republican and former Utah governor, served as the U.S. ambassador to China under Obama.

Obama has roundly criticized Obama's policies, but stayed away from launching personal attacks and proceeded cautiously, aware that going too far against his former boss might strike voters as disingenuous.

Pivoting to a more pluralist theme, Hunstman called for an end to a crisis of trust afflicting everyone from Congress and the White House to Wall Street. "There's no trust. We're running on empty," Huntsman said.