Former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman came out swinging against his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, taking aim at Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann for statements made on the campaign trail about global warming, gas prices, and the Federal Reserve.
Huntsman warned that his opponents' stances on the "extreme end" may make them "unelectable" in the general election.
In an exclusive interview on "This Week," Huntsman said "there's a serious problem" with comments made by Perry in New Hampshire last week calling man-made global warming "a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question" while claiming scientists have "manipulated data" on the issue.
"The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party -- the anti-science party, we have a huge problem," Huntsman told ABC News Senior White House correspondent Jake Tapper. "We lose a whole lot of people who would otherwise allow us to win the election in 2012."
"When we take a position that isn't willing to embrace evolution, when we take a position that basically runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said … about what is causing climate change and man's contribution to it, I think we find ourselves on the wrong side of science, and, therefore, in a losing position," Huntsman added.
Perry's comments on global warming had prompted Huntsman to send a Twitter message Thursday saying, "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
Huntsman also jabbed at Perry's comments last week saying further quantitative easing by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to print more money would be "treasonous."
"I don't know if that's pre-secession Texas or post-secession Texas," Huntsman quipped, referring to past comments by Perry saying Texas may secede from the U.S. "But in any event, I'm not sure that the average voter out there is going to hear that treasonous remark and say that sounds like a presidential candidate, that sounds like someone who is serious on the issues."
When asked if Perry's comments would hurt him in a general election contest with President Obama, Huntsman said, "I think when you find yourself at an extreme end of the Republican Party, you make yourself unelectable."
"We've had so much hope and hype in politics the last little while," Huntsman added. "We've found ourselves at the extreme ends of the political spectrum and people are crying out for us to get back to some level of sensibility."
Huntsman also questioned presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann's claim at a town hall meeting in South Carolina Thursday that she would pursue energy policies that would send gas prices back down below $2 a gallon, a level not seen since early 2009.
"I just don't know what -- what world that comment would come from," Huntsman said, calling the claim "completely unrealistic." "We live in the real world. It's grounded in reality. And gas prices just aren't going to rebound like that."
"Again, it's talking about things that, you know, may pander to a particular group or sound good at the time, but it just simply is not founded in reality," Huntsman added.
Trying to Punch Through
After early buzz for his candidacy, Huntsman has struggled to gain a firm foothold since announcing his campaign nearly two months ago, remaining in low single digits in most national polls. But after a series of high-level staff shakeups in recent weeks, the campaign has vowed to take on a more aggressive stance against fellow GOP candidates.
Huntsman said on "This Week" that he hopes his "center right" message will resonate with moderate and independent voters in New Hampshire, where he is staking his early ground in the campaign, avoiding the early state of Iowa altogether.
"Right now, this country is crying out for a sensible middle ground," Huntsman said. "This is a center right country. I am a center right candidate."
"Right now, we've got people on the fringes," Huntsman added. "President Obama is too far to the left. We've got people on the Republican side who are too far to the right and we have zero substance. We have no good ideas that are being circulated or talked about that will allow this country to get back on its feet economically so that we can begin creating jobs."
Huntsman was the only Republican presidential candidate who supported the eventual Congressional compromise on the debt ceiling, causing him to question all of his GOP rivals on the economy.
"I wouldn't necessarily trust any of my opponents right now, who were on a recent debate stage with me, when every single one of them would have allowed this country to default," Huntsman said. "So I have to say that there was zero leadership on display in terms of my opponents."
Huntsman said President Obama also failed in the debt ceiling debate, and recently claimed he is "out of ideas" on the economy. Huntsman said tax reform, regulatory reform and working toward energy independence would be his top economic priorities if he were president.
"We've got to create a competitive tax code, just like we did in the state of Utah," Huntsman said. "We've got to take the business tax, which is the second highest in the developed world and we've got to phase out the loopholes and the deductions, get rid of the corporate welfare. We've got to lower the rate and broaden the base."
"People aren't putting money into the marketplace, they're not hiring, because there's so much uncertainty and confusion about where this economy is going," Huntsman added.
Huntsman instituted a flatter tax system in Utah as governor, bringing rates to 5 percent, and said that phasing out deductions and loopholes to lower the overall national tax rate would prevent raising taxes on the middle class "in a revenue neutral fashion."
GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney said in New Hampshire last week that he would also support a flatter tax system at the national level, prompting Huntsman to tweak his main rival in the New Hampshire primary.
"Well, I know in 1996, he was against a flat tax… If we were to talk about his inconsistencies and his -- the changes on various issues, we'd be here all afternoon," Huntsman said. "But if he's in favor of a flat tax now where he wasn't before, at least he's moving in the right direction."
While Huntsman remains far behind the top-tier candidates, he says he believes it is still early in the nomination contest, and that his focus on New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida gives him a plausible path to the nomination.
"I'm confident we're getting there," Huntsman said. "But I'm even more confident that the message that we bring to this race, that of a center right message for a center right country that is looking for common sense solutions and a leader who's actually....been there and done that in the marketplace and can apply those same principles now to a nation that so desperately needs it."
"That's where we are. And I think that's the message that's going to attract people," Huntsman added. "I like exactly where we are. Stay tuned. I think we're going to do just great."