George Stephanopoulos Badgers GOP Candidate; Four Years Ago, ABC Was Gentle With Dems

Good Morning America co-anchor George Stephanopoulos conducted a confrontational interview with possible Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman on Friday, challenging the moderate governor from the right on spending and on the former Utah governor's praise of Barack Obama.

Stephanopoulos highlighted Huntsman's work for the Obama administration as ambassador to China: "The President is also a person, a particular person, President Barack Obama. You wrote to him saying, calling him a 'remarkable leader.' Do you stand by that?" After the Republican dodged, Stephanopoulos even followed up: "Do you believe he's a remarkable leader and are you in sync with his foreign policy?"

Although Stephanopoulos and ABC should be given credit for asking serious questions that conservative primary voters want to know, this isn't how the morning show treated Democrats in the 2008 cycle. Almost four years to the day, on May 21, 2007, GMA featured then-possible presidential candidate Al Gore for 10 and a half minutes.

During that segment, Gore actually chastised then-co anchor Diane Sawyer for raising supposedly silly subjects. Sawyer sublimated herself, accepting the critique. At one point, she gingerly began, "But to dig not-very deep, once again, at my peril here-"

GMA is also the same program that offered two town halls to Democratic candidates (Hillary Clinton and John Edwards) in 2007, totaling 64 minutes. No Republican appeared for a similar show. During those programs, many softball questions were tossed, such as this one from Sawyer to John Edwards: "Do you listen to an iPod? Does it relax you on the road?"

It was a far cry from the grilling Huntsman received. He had to react to this query from viewer Joeyln Singley: "She says that 'recent comments from Mr. Huntsman have confused me as to his religious affiliation. Is he a practicing Mormon or not?'"

Stephanopoulos was also, at times, vague. He informed viewers that Huntsman was "squishy" on "cap and trade." Many Americans are unfamiliar with the term and providing more than a one sentence description on its impact would be helpful.

A transcript of the May 20 segment, which aired at 7:07am EDT, follows:

7am tease

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The challenger. President Obama made him ambassador to China. Now Jon Huntsman may be the candidate the White House fears most. On the presidential campaign trail, he speaks out for the first time in a GMA exclusive.   

7:07

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to turn now to the 2012 challengers and my exclusive interview with Jon Huntsman. The former Republican governor of Utah, he's a motorcycle-loving Mormon, served as ambassador to China for President Obama. But now he's gearing up for a challenge to the President and I caught up with him during his first campaign trip to new Hampshire. Huntsman says he hasn't made a final decision.

JOHN HUNTSMAN: Hello, everybody.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But sure looked like a candidate Thursday.

HUNTSMAN: How are you?

STEPHANOPOULOS: He campaigned with his wife and daughters. And when we spoke, I asked about what could be his biggest problem in a primary. I know you know that for a lot of Republican primary voters, the number one question is, does he have a chance? He worked for Obama. What's the answer?

HUNTSMAN: I worked for the President of the United States. The President asked me, the president of all the people. And during a time of war, during a time of economic difficulty for our country, if I'm asked by my president to serve I'll stand up and do it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you'd do it again?

HUNTSMAN: I'd do it again, of course. I've always been trained at that when your country needs you, particularly in a critical and sensitive bipartisan position, which is the U.S. ambassador to China, that you, if there is the prospect that you can get in there and bring about change in a way that helps your country through public service, I'm there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is also a person, a particular person, President Barack Obama. [Onscreen: picture of letter with "remarkable leader" highlighted in yellow.] You wrote to him saying, calling him a remarkable leader. Do you stand by that?

HUNTSMAN: He chose me, a Republican, and I wrote that to him by way of a thank you note and thank you notes are a proud tradition for a lot of people and it's a good thing that people don't go through George Bush's Sr. thank you notes-

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thousands of them.

HUNTSMAN: -because he wrote a lot of them and I do a lot of them too and it was my way of expressing what I thought about his selection.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I'm asking what you think about him now. Do you believe he's a remarkable leader and are you in sync with his foreign policy?

HUNTSMAN: History will show how effective he is. In terms of foreign policy, we have a generational opportunity, George, to reset our position in the world. It means that we probably don't need to be in certain parts of the Middle East where there are domestic revolutions playing out where we probably should ought to let them play out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that Libya?

HUNTSMAN: Libya would be among them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You'd stop enforcing the no-fly zone?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would have chosen from the beginning not to intervene in Libya. I would say that it is not core to our national security interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about some domestic issues. Republican primary voters are going to wonder about your decision as governor of Utah to take the stimulus funds, President Obama's stimulus funds. And when you were asked about it, you suggested that one of the problems with the stimulus is that it wasn't big enough. Is that what you still believe?

HUNTSMAN: If you read on in that interview, you will find that I was specifically referring to corporate tax cuts, payroll tax deductions and focusing the stimulus in infrastructure projects that would improve our economic future.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you also did align yourself with Mark Zandi, who said the stimulus probably had to be about a trillion dollars.

HUNTSMAN: That was his take. That was his take. And my take was let's stimulate business. Let's look at tax cuts and payroll tax deductions. If you read on in the interview, that's exactly what I said.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no apologies for taking the stimulus funds and you might have wanted more stimulus but it would have been more tax cuts?

HUNTSMAN: A regret that it was not properly focused around that which would really stimulate the economy.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No apologies for other positions that could be problems in a GOP primary. Civil unions for gay couples, some benefits fror illegal immigrants.

HUNTSMAN: I don't change on my positions.

STEPHANOPOULOS: He was squishier on cap and trade.

HUNTSMAN: Today our focus, although we all care about the environment, today our number one priority is the economy and we should not be doing anything that stands in the way of economic growth.   

STEPHANOPOULOS: I just have two more questions. One comes from one of our viewers and it's from Joeyln Singley of Salt Lake City, Utah. She says that "recent comments from Mr. Huntsman have confused me as to his religious affiliation. Is he a practicing Mormon or not?"

HUNTSMAN: I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon. Today, there are 13 million Mormons. It's a very diverse and heterogeneous cross section of people.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Think it'll be an issue in this campaign?

HUNTSMAN: And I probably add to that diversity somewhat. I don't think so. I think people want to know that, you, if you get in the race are going to be a problem solver, a pragmatic problem solver who will look laser like on jobs and keeping the economy moving forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you're going through your due diligence now. Anything that can stop you from run jag.

HUNTSMAN: My wife. That's a final decision. You either feel it inside or you don't. You don't need people who whisper things in your ear and you either have a conviction about our place in time in history and the importance of broadening and expanding the debate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you very much, governor. [Interview ends] In that interview, Huntsman also called for the repeal of President Obama's health care plan and endorsed that controversial budget, Republican budget by Paul Ryan. That's the one that tied Newt Gingrich in knots. 

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org