Huntsman: ‘I Cringe’ When Perry Goes Birther; ‘Nonsensical Talk’ Will Drive Away Independents

Jon Huntsman has a stark warning for Rick Perry with his apparently playful suggestion that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States: Don’t go there.

On ABC’s “Top Line” today, the former Utah governor said Perry is in danger of alienating independent voters by wrongly suggesting that there’s doubt about the president’s birth status.

“When I see one of my colleagues, Gov. Perry, who starts talking about birtherism again, I cringe. I say, as a party if we are going to win this election we have to focus on the issues that are germane for the American family,” Huntsman told us. “That’s expanding the economy, that’s jobs, that’s our position in the world. And when we get off on those fringe issues, we lose the independents in particular. The independents are looking for a home, and the independents largely are gonna drive the outcome of the election.”

“They hear some of that chatter, some of that nonsensical talk, and it causes them to turn and walk away. And we can’t afford to have that happen,” he added. “It’s been settled folks. It’s been settled: The president is a citizen of the United States. I mean, how much more do we have to talk about it? Let’s move on to the real issues of the day.”

Huntsman said that while he’ll commit to supporting whoever wins the Republican nomination, “of course” the GOP can still lose to Obama:

“If we take our eye off the ball called debt, if we take our eye off the ball called our position in the world — continue going with you know, two wars simultaneously — of course we can lose it. And if we kind of begin wasting time on the nonsensical and the silly issues like birtherism…”

Huntsman also had biting words for Mitt Romney – he’s “leading from behind,” he asserted.

And while he praised the concept of a flat tax as a “good move for our country longer-term,” he criticized the way some of his opponents are approaching the issue.

“Gov. Perry has proposed a flat tax as part of his overall tax reform proposal. So he doesn’t fix it, he just is providing additional options,” Huntsman said. “It’s optional? I say, OK, if I’m gaming the system with the current loophole system, I’m gonna keep gaming the system. I mean, what kind of fix is that?”

“And then Mitt Romney is kind of nibbling around the edges, and then you’ve got [Herman Cain's] 9-9-9 morphed into 9-0-9, whatever the latest zip code is. And I say I’m the only one putting forward a program that calls for a cleaning house.”

Huntsman said he isn’t bothered by the fact that he’s lagging far back in the polls, and is far back behind Romney in New Hampshire, where Huntsman is pinning his hopes for a strong showing.

“He is the home boy, so to speak, he has name recognition. That doesn’t mean that there is a deep reservoir of go-to-the-mat belief in his cause,” he said. “We’ve gone from zero in New Hampshire to 10, 11 percent in a recent poll, and I say we are moving in the right direction….”

“We are moving the market, and as we move the market it improves fundraising, people see that you actually are coming out of nowhere with a message and with real experience. And you look at the list of people — who can stay standing at the very end as a viable alternative — you can look through the list and see who can remain as a viable alternative. We will be a viable alternative, I have no doubt about that.”

Huntsman declined to say whether he thinks Romney or Cain is a stronger candidate against Obama, saying he hopes to the beneficiary of the next of a series of boomlets for various candidates.

“Time will tell. All I can say is that Herman Cain and I were at the same level in the polls just a couple of short weeks ago, and it shows how fickle and unpredictable these numbers are. And I say if we do what needs to be done in the next two months to go before the early primaries, we have plenty of time to make the needle move, and I like our position. The last thing you’ve got to do is to flame out. You want to be a rising star as opposed to a shooting star, and I’ve got a sore neck watching my colleagues go up and down with such rapidity.”