Potential GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China, told conservative activists Friday that Republicans should not focus on fiscal issues over "life" - that is, opposition to abortion rights.
Huntsman, who is seen as a moderate because of his centrist positions on immigration, cap-and-trade legislation and gay rights - as well as his willingness to serve as ambassador in the Obama administration - was addressing the Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference in Washington, a gathering of social conservative activists who appear to view him skeptically.
Despite being introduced as "a good conservative" by Faith and Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, Huntsman did not generate the applause offered some of the other speakers,. Bachmann won approval from the crowd for her backing of "traditional marriage," an issue that Huntsman, who supports gay civil unions, did not address.
In his remarks, Huntsman spotlighted his record on abortion, saying he "signed every pro-life bill that came to my desk" as governor.
"I signed the bill that made second-trimester abortions illegal, and increased the penalty for doing so," he continued. "I signed the bill to allow women to know the pain an abortion causes an unborn child. I signed the bill requiring parental permission for abortion. I signed the bill that would trigger a ban on abortions in Utah if Roe v. Wade was overturned."
He said that if Republicans prioritize economic issues over "life" issues, "the deficit we will face is one that is much more destructive. It will be a deficit of the heart and of the soul."
"That is a trade we should not make," said Huntsman.
That's not to say Huntsman ignored fiscal issues: He suggested that in its borrowing, the United States is really buying "serfdom." Huntsman argued the debate over increasing the debt ceiling is really a debate over the role of government in American lives. The distinction between freedom and serfdom, he suggested, will be "essence of the election in 2012."
"Heavy government expenditures and liberty are absolutely incompatible," said Huntsman.
In remarks to reporters Friday, the former governor vowed to make his presidential plans known "very soon."