Jon Huntsman called for the rise of a third party on Thursday as he argued the remaining GOP presidential candidates lack big ideas.
The comments from the former Utah governor, who dropped out of the race in January after a disappointing showing in New Hampshire’s primary, were striking given his support for Mitt Romney, one of the four remaining GOP candidates for president.
"I see zero evidence of people getting out there and addressing the economic deficit — which is a national-security problem, for heaven's sake," he said. “I think we're going to have problems politically until we get some sort of third-party movement or some alternative voice out there that can put forward new ideas."
Huntsman, who also bemoaned Wednesday's GOP debate as "wasting time," quickly added that he had no interest in running as a third-party candidate.
"That ain't gonna be me, by the way; I know the next question. I'm not interested in that," he said.
Huntsman and Romney both hail from Utah and are longtime rivals with a cool relationship. During his campaign, Huntsman frequently criticized and even mocked Romney.
Still, the comments on Wednesday, coming about a month after Huntsman decided to endorse Romney, were striking.
Huntsman was pressed by the panel on "Morning Joe" as to whether he was rethinking that endorsement or was dissatisfied with his candidate's performance.
The former Utah governor emphasized that while he still thinks "Mitt Romney's the best person" to handle the current economic crisis, he was "not a surrogate for anyone" and was unimpressed by the stances of all the candidates.
"Listen, until someone comes out that we're going to sweep-clean the tax code, until we have the opportunity for a manufacturing renaissance ... I'm a little disappointed that the big, bold, visionary stuff that the Republican Party is famous for is not on display for people to see," Huntsman said.
In addition to calling for a third party, Huntsman endorsed campaign finance reform and term limits, saying both would be healthy for a democracy mired in the two-party system.
He also argued that Republicans had made a tactical mistake in embracing a culture-war argument over birth-control mandates.
"Not only is it a waste of airtime, but it's a political loser, because of the impact it has on the demographic you're describing," Huntsman said to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who had just discussed conservative women in his life who were upset with the party over the issue.
Of his own presidential effort, Huntsman said he ultimately fell short because of an unwillingness to pander.
"I didn't pander, and if you're not willing to pander early enough in the game … you don't raise enough money. You don't raise enough money, you don't get the big momentum," Huntsman said.
The former ambassador to China also said Republican voters never forgave him for working in the Obama administration.
"I think people held against me that I crossed a partisan line in serving this president," Huntsman said.
This story was posted at 7:30 a.m. and updated at 9:03 a.m.
Christian Heinze contributed to this story.