Harvard Political Review: In thinking about the future of your party over the next few decades, what do you think the ideal Republican Party should look like?
Jon Hutsman: My ideal party is courageous, optimistic, visionary, and inclusive. We can fill in the gaps in terms of the policies that surround those descriptions, but those policies will follow these core ideals.
HPR: When compared with the Democratic Party, what are the distinguishing features of that ideal Republican Party?
JH: Mainly, our focus on fiscal issues and our nation’s debt, which need to be addressed. These issues are not right, left, conservative, or liberal—they are about basic math—and I think the Republicans traditionally have had a stronger, more respected approach to dealing with issues like debt. Secondly, the trust gap distinguishes the Republican Party from the Democratic Party. I think if Republicans draw from their traditions going all the way back to Theodore Roosevelt, they are in a better position to take on the status quo and reform some of the structural deficiencies of the system.
On both fronts, whether it is the fiscal deficit or the trust deficit, I think Republicans are actually in a stronger position if they are able to corral answers to some foundational issues and project them in a way that speaks to a vision with optimism. I think we can survive and indeed thrive as a party.
HPR: In regards to your mention of inclusiveness, what do you think should be the Republican message on immigration reform and gay marriage?
JH: In terms of immigration, we need to see the issue as more than just relating to security. We have to see immigration as an economic issue. That is because immigration is, more than anything else, a driver of talent and innovation in this country. We have policies that allow people to come to our schools and then kick them out of our country. We are depriving our country of brainpower and talent. So the Republican Party should increasingly come to view immigration as an economic tool and deal realistically with the 12 million people who are here and who are integrated in our societies. We have to deal with immigration realistically as opposed to rhetorically.
In my view, marriage equality is a conservative principle, because it involves equality under the law, something that Lincoln talked about back in 1860 as our first Republican president. And it is also about encouraging stronger and more stable relationships, which are good for any community. Denying two people who love each other the right to marry is not a conservative principle. So for those reasons, I think marriage equality is a conservative ideal. Now, I do think the issue should be discussed by the states and that state legislatures will decide what they will. But as an overriding principle, I think equality under the law and encouraging stable relationships are part of this party’s foundation.
HPR: In terms of this vision for the Republican Party, who are the leaders and the factions that we should be watching?
JH: I do not think they have necessarily emerged yet. We are coming off of two defeats and, indeed, in five out of the last six elections Republicans lost the popular vote. Factions will likely emerge over the next year or two, but that is healthy because there will be greater competition of ideas and personalities. But, of course, it is impossible to predict today who and what issues might rise to the top.
HPR: Last week, The Week magazine called Chris Christie the new Jon Huntsman. What is your response to that comparison?
JH: If I responded to every remark by a political analyst, I would drive myself crazy. But I think Chris Christie is one of the more remarkable political talents in the country today. He is proving this at the local level by bringing together broad support for his policies. If anyone wants to draw a comparison between us, I would be highly flattered.
HPR: How do you think relations between the U.S. and China have changed since you stepped down as ambassador?
JH: They are growing ever more complicated because of the pressure, stress, and strains that are put on the partnership, due to the fact that most major global issues involve these relations. America’s relationship with China is now a global relationship, as opposed to just a bilateral relationship. And that means that it is becoming increasingly more challenging to manage certain expectations that have become exceedingly high. The relationship is also historic in nature, in that the U.S. has never managed a global relationship before and neither has China. So putting the pieces together that will constitute success in this setting is a challenge. We are not there yet, and it will take a certain maturation process, but success must be achieved.
HPR: If you were given complete control over U.S. policy towards China, what things would you change immediately and what principles would guide your actions?
JH: I would meet with Xi Jinping before September because we are wasting a whole year because the President does not want sit down with him until the fall. Jinping is newly installed in office, the President is newly reelected, and the clock is ticking. We have what I would call a blue sky in terms of our ability to be flexible in forging a stronger relationship over the next three to four years, but every month counts.
I would also deconstruct the major bilateral organizing body, the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and replace it with a much smaller and more nimble operating vehicle driven by the President, where there are regular meetings not on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly or the G20. These would be focused bilateral meetings where each side would really get to know each other and get to understand each other’s needs and build trust. That is hard to do if you only have a part-time relationship.
Our guiding principles need to focus on building a relationship not just on mutual interests but shared interests. We do not have enough shared values in our relationship and we need to promote more—whether they involve human rights, democracy, free markets, or liberty. You can trade and work on regional problem solving, but these relations are temporary and ephemeral unless you have shared values. I am absolutely convinced that the younger generation in China is moving forward with a desire for the kind of values we enjoy and promote here in our country. Though it may take some time, one of our core principles going forward really needs to be developing a relationship that is driven more by shared values.
HPR: What do you think is the biggest misconception Americans hold about China?
JH: A leading misconception is that China is destined and motivated by desire to confront us militarily. The reality is that China is consumed domestically with challenges, dissent, a restive population, and an economy in transition. The Chinese leadership dos not have time to think much about the rest of the world as much as we think they do. I think most Americans would be surprised to stop, learn, and reflect on that reality.
HPR: Do you believe that America will always be number one in the world?
JH: Well that depends on how you define number one. I do not see a time in the next 100 years when the United States will fall victim to anything other than first place status as an animator, as a creator, or as an economic power. China is likely to overtake the United States in terms of sheer economic output in the next 10 to 15 years, but not as an innovator and a country that provides high quality of life. But we will have to become a little more accustomed to sharing the global stage with others. I think that will be the most significant mental adjustment that will take some getting used to.
This interview has been edited and condensed.