In an interview airing Thursday on PBS’s “Newshour,” Republican presidential contender and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said, if elected, he would consider asking the richest Americans to “sacrifice.”
“As president, I wouldn’t hesitate to call on a sacrifice from all of our people, even those at the very highest end of the income spectrum,” Huntsman said.
While Huntsman stopped short of asking the rich to pay higher taxes, as proposed by congressional Democrats and President Obama, he opened the door for means-testing Social Security or Medicare.
Huntsman clarified the comments in a Fox News interview Thursday afternoon, but did not back off the idea of entitlement reform - or closing certain tax loopholes, which some conservatives believe would mean a de facto tax increase.
“It means reforming our tax code. I mean we’ve got a broken, dilapidated tax code that’s got to be completely revamped for the 21st century," Huntsman said." Do we need to phase out loop holes and deductions and get rid of corporate welfare, absolutely we do. And you raise that and you reinvest it back into the tax code, that’s exactly what I would do.”
Huntsman also slammed those who are unwilling to put such measures on the table as not living in "the real world."
“I don’t care. I live in the real world and I am going to say what the truth is. How I see the truth. I am going to run on my record, it is what it is, I’m not going to obfuscate and make something up," Huntsman said.
The interview comes as a newly released poll shows trouble for Huntsman’s candidacy as he tries to gain ground in a GOP nomination race increasingly dominated by Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Huntsman did not register at all in Thursday’s Sachs/Mason-Dixon poll of Florida, despite basing his campaign headquarters in Orlando and recently earning the endorsement of Jeb Bush Jr., son of the former Florida governor.
Romney led Republican hopefuls in the poll with 28 percent; Perry and Rep. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Minn.) trailed with 21 percent and 13 percent, respectively.
Huntsman, an ambassador to China under President Obama, has gravitated toward the middle of the electorate in recent weeks, hoping that providing a clear contrast with Tea Party candidates such as Perry and Bachmann would help his campaign gain traction.
In his interview on “Newshour,” Huntsman additionally offered support for Democrats’ plan to extend payroll tax cuts set to expire in January.
“I think the payroll tax cut is a good thing,” Huntsman said. “I think it helps a whole lot of people. And I think it’s something that would serve to stimulate this economy going forward.”
A strange twist to the issue is the fact that Obama is open to an extension of the payroll tax holiday, while Republicans are reluctant to continue it.
Huntsman also threw a light jab at the conservative wing of the Republican Party last week, when he tweeted: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”
But it stands to be seen whether Huntsman’s pivot toward the center will garner him support throughout the GOP primary process, which is traditionally dominated by more conservative voters.