After Touting Huntsman's Promise to be 'Civil,' ABC Slams Republican with Obama Talking Points

When Good Morning America's Robin Roberts conducted a softball interview with Barack Obama on Friday, she sought out questions from basketball stars. On Wednesday, however, George Stephanopoulos grilled Republican Jon Huntsman with queries taken straight from the White House's 2012 reelection team.

Stephanopoulos played up the presidential candidate's promise for "a civil campaign" and an ABC graphic reminded, "Huntsman's Promise to be Civil." Yet, the journalist quoted an Obama spokesman warning that Huntsman "would slash our commitment to education."

After reading this attack, Stephanopoulos parroted, "He says you're proposing a return to the failed economic polices that led us into the recession."

The co-anchor, who previously worked for the Clinton administration, continued to repeat Obama talking points: "But, they're saying your embrace of the Ryan budget is going to hurt senior citizens, hurt middle class families."

As if reciting one White House aide's attacks weren't enough, Stephanopoulos found another: "David Axelrod and others have said when you were ambassador they had meetings in Shanghai where behind the scenes you embraced the President's economic plans, encouraged his efforts on health care."

Huntsman also appeared on Wednesday's Today show. Co-anchor Ann Curry pushed the former Utah governor on his wealth:

ANN CURRY: "One of the things they're going to learn about you is that you're the son of one of the richest men in America and you yourself, you're also wealthy, at a time when corporate America is making record profits and not hiring. So what do you say to – especially blue collar workers – who say what they want is a president who knows how to bring jobs back to America?"

A transcript of the June 22 GMA segment, which aired at 7:05am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And with that, let's get to the latest Republican candidate to officially jump into the race, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman right here in the studio this morning. Thanks for coming in.

JON HUNTSMAN: Thank you, George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Obama set to make a very big speech announcing his exit strategy from Afghanistan likely to say that up to 10,000 troops will come home this year, all the surge troops, 30,000 by 2012. Does that sound like the right exit strategy to you? Because in the past you said that without that we're wasting our money and wasting our strategic resources.

HUNTSMAN: Well, it sounds a little slow and a little cautious when you look at one out of every six Defense Department dollars going in support of what we're doing in Afghanistan.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you'd withdraw more now?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I think over the next year I think there is room to draw down more.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How many more?

HUNTSMAN: Well, we'll get serious about the numbers at some point but I think more aggressive than what is likely on the table.

STEPHANOPOULOS: More than 10,000 over the next year.

HUNTSMAN: More than 10,000 over the next year. I think what you want to be left with is a good counter-terror capability, an intelligence collection capability, some trading capability. I think we have to say nine years and 50 days into the conflict, the money that has been spent between both conflicts, well over a trillion dollars, I think we have to say what have we accomplished in Afghanistan?

ABC GRAPHIC: New Man in the Race: Huntsman's Promise to be Civil

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about the economy. You know, you promised, yesterday, a civil campaign as you addressed our number one challenge on the economy. But the Obama campaign hasn't been shy about taking on your ideas right away. The first press release from the campaign was directed at you. This is what Ben LaBolt, the Obama campaign spokesperson said, "Governor Huntsman has embraced a budget plan that would slash our commitment to education, wipe out investments that will foster the jobs of the future and extend tax cuts for the richest Americans while shifting the burden onto seniors and middle class families." He says you're proposing a return to the failed economic polices that led us into the recession.

HUNTSMAN: We're in economic dire straits. This country needs a serious conversation about where we go from here. It's got to be serious about entitlements on the table, Defense Department on the table, about how we revive the economy that doesn't carry with it a lot of confidence. And until there's that you won't get businesses willing to deploy capital investment into the economy, expanding it and creating jobs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, they're saying your embrace of the Ryan budget is going to hurt senior citizens, hurt middle class families.

HUNTSMAN: There's a lot of political hyperbole that's making the rounds today. What the Ryan plan is is a real proposal. I have yet to see anything from the Democrats that would resemble a serious proposal on the table. I see campaign commercials that go on that use scare tactics, but what Ryan has done is actually put some concrete measures on the table, that deal with entitlements, that deal with spending longer term.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, you'd sign it into law if you were president?

HUNTSMAN: There's' a lot there to like.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's team has also said you've been changing your tune. Of course you served as the President's ambassador to China, once wrote he was a "remarkable leader." But, they're going beyond that. David Axelrod and others have said when you were ambassador they had meetings in Shanghai where behind the scenes you embraced the President's economic plans, encouraged his efforts on health care. When they say that, are they not telling the truth?

HUNTSMAN: I think a lot of that is nonsense.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not true?

HUNTSMAN: When you- listen, when a group comes to town as they did once for a state visit, when you greet them, you congratulate them on what they're doing. Good work on your legislative victories. Congratulations. I mean, that should not be misinterpreted as a wholesale embrace of what they're doing. I don't know where that is coming from, but the fact that everyone is working on health care-

STEPHANOPOULOS: It's coming from David Axelrod.

HUNTSMAN: You would expect that when, you know, in a political environment. But, listen, I have respect for the President. He's a good man. He's earnest andnd he's hard working. We just have fundamentally disagreements on a country we both love. And I think that's not a bad thing in our historic cycle. 2012 is going to be a critically important election year because it will have everything to do with resetting our numbers and I believe resetting our position in the world from a generational standpoint, two critically important things.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally I have to ask about your first campaign ad. That motocross rider going across the desert. Now, turns out that isn't you. What are you trying to say?

HUNTSMAN: If had been me we wouldn't have been going a lot faster. My bike, my riding gear, sadly, we couldn't work out the logistics, such that I could get out there and ride. It's to get people talking. You know, you throw up a corny commercial and it gets people talking and I think we've achieved the intended purpose and here we are. Now a day into it and feeling pretty good about things.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You certainly have done that, Governor. We'll see you on the trail.

HUNTSMAN: Thanks, George.

— Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.