Jon Huntsman Criticizes Leadership Gap

Former Utah Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman Jr. lamented a void of leadership in his political party and the government as a whole at a talk at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday.

Referring to himself as a “failed politician,” Huntsman said that Americans are looking for real leadership to fix the current communication breakdown in American politics.

“There is a leadership void in the world,” Huntsman said. “And when you have a leadership void, mischief tends to play out in the void.”

Free from the glaring lights and perennial pressure of the campaign trail, Huntsman spoke candidly about the problems facing his own party.

“The party is not in a good place right now, given its recent rhetoric on immigration,” he said.

He opined that the party suffers from an inability to excite voters and encourage potential candidates.

“Here you are during a time of the great crisis for this nation...and you say, this is all this great country can offer up?” he added.

“I think boldness is thrown right out the window. I think courage is not on display,” Huntsman said. He said that many Republicans would rather sit on the sidelines than enter the race, and that the party’s base is growing frustrated with their leaders’ concern about their personal political safety. “I think most Americans are pretty fed up.”

Huntsman danced around making predictions for the fall’s general election, but he briefly discussed Mitt Romeny, the all-but-crowned Republican presidential nominee who has outlasted Huntsman and other contenders for the 2012 nomination.

“I think Romney will show leadership on the economy,” Huntsman said. “But on the trust deficit, I don’t see a whole lot of leadership.”

Huntsman’s long résumé reaches into both the private and public sectors. A veteran of the State Department and several presidential administrations, he also headed the Huntsman Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar chemical company, before he was elected governor of Utah in 2004. He most recently served as the Obama administration’s ambassador to China before leaving the post in 2011 to pursue a Republican nomination run.

In Jan. 2012, having struggled with a lack of support during the party’s primaries, Huntsman ended his campaign.

In his speech Thursday, Huntsman lamented a growing gap between the political and business classes.

“My concern is that we don’t have the fluid environment we’ve had in years past,” said Huntsman, who has navigated both realms himself. He compared the two sides to independent silos, each developing their own culture.

Despite the dearth of leadership that he said he sees, Huntsman said he is optimistic. Americans, he said, will demand a solution, and reliable candidates will step up.

“People forget that we’re in a human game, a people game,” Huntsman said.

—Staff writer Nicholas P. Fandos can be reached at nicholasfandos@college.harvard.edu.

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