SALT LAKE CITY — On Abby Huntsman's third day co-hosting ABC's "The View," Nike's ad featuring Colin Kaepernick was the topic of discussion.
Since the former NFL quarterback knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, debate surrounding that action has divided the country almost more than anything else in the past year, said Huntsman to her three women co-hosts and a live studio audience in New York.
While the former "Fox & Friends" host's opinions on Kaepernick differed from those of the other women at the table — Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Sunny Hostin — she was able to find common ground.
"I think you can love this ad and love the inspiration," Huntsman said on the show that airs weekend mornings. "And, where I come from, where I stand on this, is I do think kneeling for the national anthem is disrespectful. I think you can fall in both places there, both camps."
The exchange illustrated the 32-year-old Utah native's genuine desire to listen, debate and come away respecting those with different viewpoints.
"It wasn’t blaming the others for what they believe, or simply disagreeing," Huntsman said, describing the exchange. "It was: How can we get past this and learn from each other? And how do we make race relations better? Because that’s what this is all about. And I’m the first to say we still have many challenges remaining. It’s just a matter of listening to each other."
Huntsman, the daughter of former Utah governor and current U.S. ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman Jr. and granddaughter of Jon Huntsman Sr., billionaire philanthropist and former Area Seventy for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, joined the cast of "The View" on Sept. 4 for its 22nd season.
Huntsman spoke with the Deseret News recently about the importance of listening to multiple sides of an issue, her new job on "The View," being a mother and growing up in Utah. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Deseret News: Your first day on "The View," you said people are “so much more complicated than the way we are often defined.” What narrow labels do people assign to you that don’t fit?
Abby Huntsman: I grew up Mormon, so they’ll say, "she’s Mormon, she’s conservative." They’ll often say I only got where I am because of my dad. You hear so many different things. For me, I try to live life every day by getting to know people for who they are and learning from them. More and more we’re becoming a society where everyone lives in their cul-de-sacs and defines other people by what they think they are, versus what is beyond that. Many of my generation don’t want to be labeled one thing or the other. With politics for example, we’re at a time when both parties are at such an extreme. A lot of us are in that middle area, and that’s where I sit.
DN: You mentioned the word conservative. So that’s not a label you like to use for yourself?
AH: I don’t like to define myself as necessarily conservative. What is it to be a conservative? What is it to be a Republican, even? You’ve got Trump in the White House, so you could say there’s the Trump party, and then traditionally there’s the Republican Party. But for me, it just depends on what the issue is. I’m probably more fiscally a Republican. But socially, I’m just accepting of everything. I want everyone to be happy; I want everyone to live a life that they’re proud of. So I’m not going to sit there and judge them and speak for them. That’s just who I am.
DN: How do you differ from the other hosts. What unique perspective do you provide that might be valuable to viewers?
AH: You bring your life experiences, you bring your personality, you bring your age. The show was originally created to have someone at that table that everyone in this country can relate too. The minute you watch the show you’re going to see how different we all are. What’s great about it is we’re all friends off-camera. Today, for example, we were talking about parenting, and everyone had their own opinion based on the way their parents raised them, based on how they raised their own kids. And that’s what’s so fun about the show. I’ve learned a lot from them, and I think maybe they’ll learn some things from me. You don’t see that a lot on television today. It’s often just people screaming their points. They’re either in the conservative box or the liberal box and there’s just so much more than that.
DN: You’ve worked for programs that span the ideological spectrum: at Huffpost, MSNBC, Fox, and now ABC. What have you learned from working at these different networks?
AH: That’s me in a nutshell! I have friends from every place that I’ve worked. And they’re all so different. At each place, even though they might be defined ideologically — you think of Fox as being more conservative and MSNBC as more liberal — the people are the same. They’re just good people, and they go on and do their job every day, and they try to help to inform their audience. I’ve really taken something from each place. Now I’m at "The View" where it’s sort of a mix of everything, and that is maybe where I perfectly belong.
DN: I know you don’t like to label yourself, but at certain points you’ve stood up for Trump and some of the decisions he’s made. Do you feel a responsibility to defend Trump or the reputation of the Republican Party?
AH: I don’t feel responsibility to defend anybody. I feel responsibility to speak from my heart and what I feel is true or not, or right or wrong. With Fox, I traveled the country and I got to know so many of the Trump voters. They are wonderful people. I talked to them about the issues they care about and why they voted for him. So when Trump does something, I try to think about those people. Most of them will say: I don’t agree with everything he says; I don’t agree with everything he tweets; but there are certain things he’s doing policywise — he’s standing up for America; he’s standing up for me, the little guy; he’s finally giving me a voice. Do I feel a need to defend them or defend Trump? No. In fact, if you watch all the clips on Fox, I was probably far more critical of Trump than anyone else on our show, and the audience wasn’t always thrilled about that. But I think it’s important that as a country, we understand each other.
DN: How has your father’s experience in Russia informed your views of the Trump presidency?
AH: Trump and my father didn’t know each other that well before, but I think all the interactions they’ve had have been good. My dad is always respectful and will say "I serve the president." The people who know Trump the best are the most loyal to him, because he’s loyal back to them. I know Kellyanne Conway and others because I worked with them at Fox. They all love Trump. They all feel like he’s treated them wonderfully. At the same time, the moment you’re disloyal to him, you see what happens. Look at (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions right now. It’s not a good place to be. But my dad and Trump have a good working relationship. I think Trump knows my dad, knows what he’s doing over there and really respects him. My dad is such a statesman. I lived with him when he served overseas in Singapore and China. He puts his head down and he does the work. He’s in a really, really difficult job right now, handling probably the most difficult relationship we have, with Russia. With all we’re dealing with, interference in our elections, you name it, he takes that all very seriously. He’ll always say "I am so separated from the politics at home because that’s not part of my job." It’s funny because Russia is so political, but he’s like, "I’m working hard every day. I’m dealing with Putin and political leaders, I can’t sit and read blogs about the latest controversy at home."
DN: Some feel "The View" has a history of ripping conservatives. Is the show different now? How do you anticipate being treated as someone who comes from the more conservative end of the spectrum?
AH: I always found it great television. I think I probably have different political views than the other women at the table. But, I haven’t felt since I’ve been here, at all, that I need to be a certain way or say something different than how I feel. So in that sense, I’m totally me out there. Is it different than being at Fox where it seemed like a lot of people felt similarly about a particular issue? Yes, but I like the challenge. For me, it’s fun to go out there and say, 'You know what, I disagree with you on this, but let’s talk about it.'
DN: How did the time you spent in Utah shape you? What key values or experiences from that time have defined you as a person?
AH: I’m so grateful to have grown up in Utah. I was raised with Mormon values and that taught me so much about family and about love and about living for something that’s bigger than yourself. That is so much of who I am today. Now, raising a 9-month-old, I’m wondering how do I pass those values down to my own daughter? I married an Episcopalian from Florida. Right now we’re combining our upbringings to raise our daughter. It’s a process and we’re still figuring it out. But I think that’s what life’s all about: learning from each other. My husband is the kindest human being. He is so patient and loving, and that’s what attracted me to him in the first place. So I think you start with values and hopefully raise her to be a kind person and a humble one, who is accepting of all people. That’s No. 1 in our house. And then as you go, you take pieces of each, you take this from growing up Mormon, you take that from growing up Episcopalian, and you blend them.
DN: Your grandfather has a legacy of service here in Utah, with the Huntsman Cancer Institute and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What about your grandfather’s life resonates with you?
AH: I miss him so much. We were really close. He would have written me every single day of the show so far. He would have told me what he thought about what I said or what I could have done differently. He would have told me how proud he was of me. I think about him every single day on the show. It’s been the hardest death I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I think Utah feels his absence because he left so much behind, not only his family, but he left a legacy of giving back. He’s the one who taught me to love all people despite your differences. He was someone who was political, but all of his friends were different. We had Michael Moore on the show last week. And as you know, Michael Moore is not a conservative, nowhere near, and the two of us gave each other a big hug because it was my grandpa who was friends with him. He said, "I loved your grandpa because he was a family man and we shared similar values and he believed in something and I believed in something and we taught each other." … My grandpa taught me that, and I think he taught the community of Salt Lake that.
DN: You are a new mom. How do you balance your family life with your TV career? What do you understand differently about working mothers now that you are one?
AH: My daughter is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love her so much. I spent four months at home with her after she was born, and it was so life-changing in so many ways. But coming to work, I have to shut that off, I have to focus on the job I’m doing. Then, right when we’re off the air, I rush home and focus on her. The best part of my day is coming home to her; just seeing her is my whole world. To be honest, I don’t think I could do this job without experiencing motherhood. It helps me relate to so many other women. I’m never going to judge a woman for the way they want to be a mom, for her marriage or anything else because it’s complicated. It is not easy. Every day is a new challenge.
DN: What has been your experience as a woman on TV? You witnessed the whole Bill O’Reilly fallout at Fox — how is the industry changing?
AH: Times have really changed, and I think in a lot of ways for the good. Women are speaking out and they are feeling comfortable to speak out. I came to FOX right before all that happened, and I was still there at the end of it, after they weathered the storm. Now you look at Fox and they’ve got multiple women running the channel. There’s a phone number you can call if there’s anything you are uncomfortable with, and someone’s there to help you. Frankly, it’s the women who have helped places like Fox become even stronger in the end. I still have so many girlfriends there. It’s sad that it took this long for women to feel comfortable speaking out, but I feel like now that we’re here, we need to learn from each other. I don’t want men to feel uncomfortable. I know so many good men in this world too, and they’ll say "we just feel like we can’t say anything without getting in trouble." I think it’s going to balance out at some point. It’s a challenging time, but I think that we’ll get through it and we’ll be better for it in the end.