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Huntsman compares GOP to China's government

Eight months ago, we saw one of the more memorable moments of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. At the time, there were eight candidates participating in a debate, and they were asked whether they'd accept a debt-reduction deal in which Democrats would give up $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Each GOP candidate said they'd reject that deal.

That was in August. Now, Jon Huntsman looks back at the incident with regret.

Huntsman said he regrets his decision to oppose a 10-to-1 spending cuts to tax increase deal to cut the deficit at the Iowa debate lamenting: "if you can only do certain things over again in life."

"What went through my head was if I veer at all from my pledge not to raise any taxes…then I'm going to have to do a lot of explaining," he explained. "What was going through my mind was 'don't I just want to get through this?'"

That decision, Huntsman said, "has caused me a lot of heartburn."

Indeed, it looks like the former Utah governor appears to be quite unhappy about a lot of things just a few months after ending his presidential campaign. Huntsman appeared in New York last night at an event at the 92nd Street Y, and reflected on a wide variety of recent developments, including being disinvited from a Florida fundraiser in March after he publicly called for a third party.

"This is what they do in China on party matters if you talk off script," he said.

As a rule, prominent Republicans who hope to have a future in electoral politics don't compare their party to the Chinese government. It's a reminder that Huntsman, who was considered a fairly conservative governor of one of the nation's most conservative states, simply doesn't recognize his own party anymore as the GOP moves further and further to the right.

I was also struck by Huntsman's comments about his party and the Reagan legacy.

Asked by journalist Jeff Greenfield if he could win the nomination of the Republican Party in Utah today, Huntsman said he could not, saying later that Ronald Reagan would "likely not" be able to win the GOP nomination nationally in this political climate.

When President Obama made a very similar remark in a speech a few weeks ago, it caused something of a stir, but it's worth appreciating the fact that quite a few prominent GOP officials are now willing to say Reagan was far too liberal to be tolerated by today's Republican Party. Huntsman suggested this yesterday, but let's not forget that Mike Huckabee said a year ago, "Ronald Reagan would have a very difficult, if not impossible, time being nominated in this atmosphere of the Republican Party." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had a nearly identical take in 2010, arguing Reagan "would have a hard time getting elected as a Republican today."

Why does this matter? Because it should probably tell the American mainstream something important when the GOP moves so far to the ideological extreme that even prominent Republican voices agree that it's no longer the Party of Reagan.