Huntsman says GOP primary hopefuls too focused on ‘fringe issues’

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By Kevin Liptak, CNN

(CNN) — One of the more moderate 2012 Republican primary contenders said Friday his party’s presidential hopefuls should focus less on so-called “fringe issues” if they hope to garner support from a wide swath of Americans in general elections.

Jon Huntsman, speaking on CNN’s “Starting Point,” said too many of this cycle’s GOP candidates were running for all the wrong reasons – meaning serious issues gave way to attention-grabbing position statements.

“No one anymore is willing to step into the arena,” Huntsman said. “It’s left to those who kind of do it in part because that’s a way to make money perhaps. You know, little bit of entertainment value. There may not be anything else to do.”

Those statements reflect sentiments Huntsman made in a Huffington Post article earlier this week, when he said of the GOP primary process “the barriers of entry to this game are pretty damn low.”

The result of sub-par candidates is a lopsided focus on issues that don’t reflect the core ideological thrust of the GOP.

“We kind of drift in areas where we take on fringe issues, and it gets us stuck in the alleyways of life that take our focus away from what is really important for the American people, and that is individual freedom and that is getting the budgets balanced so people can get on with their lives,” Huntsman said.

The former Utah governor and U.S. ambassador to China dropped his presidential effort after coming in third in New Hampshire’s primary. He had campaign heavily in the state, staking his entire bid on winning the first-in-the-nation primary.

After exiting the presidential field, Huntsman put some distance between himself and the Republican Party, including his decision not to attend the convention in Tampa because Republicans were not focused on a “bigger, bolder, more confident future for the United States – a future based on problem solving, inclusiveness, and a willingness to address the trust deficit, which is every bit as corrosive as our fiscal and economic deficits.”

On Friday, Huntsman said those problems were still present, along with “structural issues” within the party that led to Mitt Romney’s loss on November 6. The GOP assessment of the loss – termed an “autopsy” by Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus – is healthy, Huntsman said, adding he thought the conclusion should be reduced to a single sentence.

“That one statement ought to be: balance the budgets and get out of people’s lives. And you ought to build the party around that because we have strong libertarian roots that go way back to the early days of the Republican Party.”

CNN’s Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.

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